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Drafty Logic in Sweden

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Sweden’s government re-instated military conscription because, as it says, “the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel.  The re-activating of conscription is needed for military readiness” (“Sweden institutes military draft for both men and women,” March 3).

No; it’s simply untrue that conscription is “needed.”  More recruits could instead be gotten by raising military pay.  Just as a private business that wants more workers pays more to get them rather than enslaves people into its ranks, so too could – and should – the Swedish military rely upon higher pay as the means of getting more workers.

It won’t do to assert that the Swedes can’t afford to spend what is required to attract the desired number of additional military workers.  The true cost of manning the military is the value that military personnel place on alternative uses of their time and effort – which includes the value of the output that these men and women would produce in the private sector were they not employed in the military.  So to conscript people into the military (presumably at below-market wages) is both to force onto conscripts a disproportionate share of the cost of maintaining the military and – by keeping the military’s budget figures low – to mask the true cost of a larger military.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


My first publication ever – which was co-authored in 1979 for Reason with my esteemed teacher Bill Field – was on the economics of conscription.


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