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The Poisonous Romance of Collectivism

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Martin Dyckman calls on Uncle Sam to reinstate the military draft, accompanied by a “National Service” program for young Americans who don’t wish to be conscripted into the armed services (“To Serve the Nation,” Feb. 15).

Ignore Mr. Dyckman’s mistaken presumption that people serve others only when they are employed by – or obliged on penalty of imprisonment to work for – government.  Ignore questions about the probable role of interest-group politics in determining how national-service conscriptees will be used.  Ignore the fact that a military manned with workers that the government rounds up at wages well below market is a military likely to use methods of production (i.e., waging war) that are unnecessarily labor-intensive – and, hence, likely to cause an unnecessarily high number of American fatalities during wartime.

Focus instead on the primitive sentiment underlying such a call as Mr. Dyckman’s.  As Milton Friedman wrote in 1966 (when Uncle Sam still conscripted labor for his military), “One of the greatest advances in human freedom was the commutation of taxes in kind to taxes in money.  We have reverted to a barbarous custom.”*

Such barbarity is both extended and masked by appending a “national service” option to military conscription.

My son is almost 15 years old.  I’ll be damned if he will be forced into being fodder for the Pentagon or into becoming a serf whose labor is at the disposal of politicians longing, as the would-be lords that they are, for the glories of feudalism.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Milton Friedman, “A Volunteer Army,” Newsweek, March 11, 1966.  (Reprinted in M. Friedman, An Economist’s Protest.)