Wrangling with Logic

by Don Boudreaux on October 11, 2004

in Prices

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) supports military conscription because he believes it would make wealthier Americans more likely to oppose unnecessary wars.

It’s an odd moral code that endorses forcing young people into harms’ way as a means of keeping them out of being in harms’ way unnecessarily. Odd – but not without its internal logic.

But Rangel gives away what little claim he has on mastering sound logic in his cause for peace and fairness by writing, in a letter appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal, that “[o]ffering economic incentives to prospective recruits appeals only to people who need the money and opportunity.”

If poor Americans live as civilians in such grim circumstances that voluntarily accepting employment in the military is the preferred option for many of them, in what way is the all-volunteer force harming these people? To conclude that the all-volunteer force inflicts a net harm on its rank-and-file employees (namely, soldiers) requires resort to some presumption that each of these people is generally unable to judge for himself what is in his best interest. Are poor and working-class Americans who enlist in the military unaware that governments send their soldiers into shooting wars and that being shot at imperils one’s life? If so, then we’ve got a problem far deeper than Rep. Rangel supposes – and an appropriate, ethically appealing way to deal with one aspect of this problem is for the military to raise the pay it offers to its recruits. It should be raised high enough to attract people who are more informed and judicious.

Of course, I don’t for a moment believe that poor Americans are any less likely than are wealthier Americans to be able to judge what is in their best interest.

More to the point, if Rangel really wants the military to be manned by sons and daughters of middle- and upper-crust America, then raising military pay substantially will achieve this goal – and do so less arbitrarily and much less coercively than will a return to the draft.

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