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On the Injustice of Conscription

In my latest column for AIER, I argue that the all-volunteer nature of the U.S. military ensures that the burden of America’s military provision falls where it belongs – on taxpayers rather than on military personnel. (Well, by not falling on soldiers and sailors this burden falls closer to where it belongs; because today’s citizens-taxpayers use deficit financing to push off onto future citizens-taxpayers much of the cost of providing government outputs and services, some people – tomorrow’s citizens-taxpayers – are indeed unjustly burdened with a large chunk of the cost of providing for the military today. But this is an issue for another time.)

A slice:

By being part of a market economy in which each person specializes in that task for which he or she enjoys a comparative advantage, and then voluntarily exchanges the fruits of his or her efforts for the countless fruits of the efforts of hundreds of millions of other individuals who are also specialized as producers, each of us exchanges burdens with each other. And in the process, we greatly lighten each other’s burdens. It’s less of a burden for me to teach economics and then to exchange some of my income with handymen (and others) to perform tasks for me than it is for me to perform for myself all of the tasks that must be performed for me if I am to enjoy my current standard of living. Ditto for Ernesto. It is easier for him – a lighter burden for him – to perform handyman tasks and then exchange the fruits of his labors for the many things that he buys for his and his family’s consumption.

A person who voluntarily enlists in the military obviously believes that that employment option is the best one for him or her. In exchange for his or her performance of military duties, that soldier or sailor is paid an amount that fully compensates that person’s time and effort spent in the military. The payment received by the soldier or sailor comes from taxpayers, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of whatever services are supplied by the military. In an all-volunteer military, the soldier or sailor no more shoulders the burden of supplying military services than Ernesto the handyman shouldered the burden of hanging my tv on my wall.

This equitable and just reality would be undone if the US government conscripted individuals into its military. All of the many individuals forced into military service against their will would, unlike today’s servicemen and servicewomen, not be fully compensated for the time and effort they would be forced to exert on behalf of taxpayers. Conscription, in short, would enable taxpayers to steal the labor of conscripts – to impose a large portion of the burden of supplying military services on conscripts.

It would clearly be unfair and unjust for me to threaten Ernesto with violence unless he supplies the service of hanging my tv at a low wage that I arbitrarily dictate. My acting in this manner would shift the burden of hanging my tv from me (where it belongs) to him (where it does not belong). For the very same reason, it would be no less unfair and unjust for me and my fellow taxpayers to threaten violence against young men and women if they refuse to supply the service of military protection at low wages that we, through our Congressional representatives, arbitrarily dictate.

Conscription ensures injustice. The all-volunteer military promotes justice.

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