Today’s Terrible Editorial Brought To You By The NY Times

Just over a week ago, I wrote the following:

Could they put through a bill requiring everybody in the US to do a year of community service before entering the workforce? What about requiring higher education? Both of these things, on the surface, would seem to have positive effects, but would completely ignore the unintended consequences, the ripple effect into other areas of life that perhaps wasn’t immediately expected.

It seems that Thomas Ricks of the New York Times thinks the first item is a great idea. In an editorial titled, “Let’s Draft Our Kids”, he espouses the supposed benefits to conscription:

 Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Uhh… perhaps some Americans are determined to maintain a “serious military force”, but by no means do Americans as a whole desire such a thing. In fact, you could even say a minority are in favor, if you use the Afghanistan war as a benchmark. From Huff Post:

Support for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low and is on par with support for the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, a bad sign for President Barack Obama as he argues that to end the war responsibly the United States must remain in Afghanistan another two years.

Only 27 percent of Americans say they back the war effort, and 66 percent oppose the war, according to an AP-GfK poll released Wednesday.

I think it would be far more accurate to say that our government is determined to maintain a serious military force, and considering their terrible record in representing their constituencies of late, its important to note the distinction.

But that’s beside the point. For some bizarre reason he seems to think that involuntary servitude is a great idea. Even more disturbing, he’s not alone. From the article:

IN late June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, called for reinstating the draft. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

Boy, there’s nothing like spreading the threat of violence, death, and chaos to motivate people! Now, there is a modicum of truth to this idea; certainly the population will take a war more seriously if their sons and daughters are in jeopardy. However, we already are taking the war seriously. Many people want our soldiers home, including our soldiers themselves. So what exactly is he trying to prove?

But then, the rights infringement keeps coming:

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

Ah, because the army is far more noble, you’ll get a six month break on your sentence. However, if you’re one of those hippie, tree-hugging, no good pacifists, you’re going to be stuck for two years with terrible pay. However, there is a (dim) light in this tunnel of horror:

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Please, please, PLEASE let me have minimal government. I don’t want Medicare, a subsidized college loan or a mortgage guarantee. Hey, I’d even be fine with no public education; but in return, I don’t want to be forcibly separated from my money to pay for those things, either. But is he really suggesting a voluntaryist system of government? Doubtful.

Onward he continues:

The pool of cheap labor available to the federal government would broadly lower its current personnel costs and its pension obligations — especially if the law told federal managers to use the civilian service as much as possible, and wherever plausible. The government could also make this cheap labor available to states and cities. Imagine how many local parks could be cleaned and how much could be saved if a few hundred New York City school custodians were 19, energetic and making $15,000 plus room and board, instead of 50, tired and making $106,329, the top base salary for the city’s public school custodians, before overtime.

Yay! Cheap labor! The ends always justify the means! I believe Mao Zedong had a similar idea… but no matter. Yes, because its every 19 year old’s dream to be randomly selected to be a school custodian for fifteen grand a year, with a mandatory term of two years. Why wouldn’t they be energetic?

Yes, I am being a touch hyperbolic in this post, but I really find it offensive that someone would think that it’s acceptable to force someone to join the military (or national service, or what have you). If we claim to be a free country, that means that our lives are our own, free to do with them as we please, free to sell our labor to whomever we please, and free from aggression from our own government. I like the fact that we have an all volunteer army. The men and women in the service are performing a job I would never care to do, but that really gets at the heart of the matter; they’re doing the job because they want to. They weren’t required, under threat of penalty, to join. In that sense, its the marketplace at work. Perhaps its not their ideal situation, but out of their given circumstances, they’ve decided to join. Myself, I’m a carpenter; obviously not everyone has a desire to do that job, but I faced that same decision; out of all my options at the time, it seemed like the best one. Often, I regret my decision to join the trade, but I still find the action of voluntarily choosing my work to be far better than having it chosen for me by a bureaucrat.


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