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Compulsory military service (also known as conscription) was commonly practiced throughout in the previous century. In the United States, conscription ended officially in 1973. Conscription was a common practice in the United States especially during the First and Second World War. Proponents of the practice argue that it conscription would help strengthen social and national cohesion in the state. However, it already been found that conscription would only lead the people to resent the government more because it can be equated to slavery. Other sections of supporters also argue that it was necessary during war to force the people into the military to increase the country’s military strength. However, the events of the Second World War and increased research and technological innovations show that it is beneficial to have a professional army of volunteers. A smaller army with good training and technological support modern arms would be more effective than a huge poorly trained, and poorly equipped army.
There have been questions of the legitimacy of the practice especially because it seems like a violation of the civil liberties. It is argued that states do not have the right to force their citizens to defend their country. Determination of the value placed on protecting one’s nation from foreign invasions is the sole responsibility of an individual not the state. This paper seeks to show that people should not be compelled to serve in the armed forces. The paper will give adequate reasons that justify the notion that American men and women should not serve in the armed forces against their will.
Delayed Participation in the Labor Market
There is a lot of uncertainty that exists in the compulsory conscription in the nations where the practice exists. It was observed that the recruits do not get drafted into the armed forces immediately. Even after medical examinations and ending temporary exemptions, the recruit may wait for some time before being drafted. As a result, recruits are not able to tell with certainty when they will begin service in the forces. As a result, they are often forced to take on casual employment which will make them more likely to remain unemployed (Bauer, Stefan, Alfredo, & Christoph, 7). Such people are likely to remain unemployed because they have not acquired the skills the market demands. If they do get employment, they would be receive lower wages because they would only qualify as unskilled or semi-skilled labor.
The situation of uncertainty also has negative effects on the conscripts’ human capital. Conscripts may not be able to advance their education or professional training as they wait to be called to service. Because they lack occupation specific skills and job training, conscripts face poor employment prospects or earnings. In a competitive labor market, these people will be economically disadvantaged (Bauer et al 8). They will likely earn less because they possess lower professional and technical skills required in the labor market. Other counterparts who do not join the military and pursue college education and more would be earning more lifetime earnings. This can further widen the income inequality gap that already exists in the United States.
Effect on Human Capital
It has also been found that there are some restrictions education decisions of people subjected conscription. A study by Torun & Semih (20) shows that the educational attainment of people compelled to serve in the military is greatly reduced. The chances of getting a college degree or more are reduced for people who are required to serve in the military. The findings by Torun & Semih (20) collaborate Bauer et al argument that compulsory military service would cause the people who are compelled to serve to receive low lifetime earnings in the labor market.
The effect of conscription on human capital does not affect the individuals only. Low human capital would also affect the state as well. The United States rise to a global economic power is largely attributed to the stock of skilled labor. Accumulation of human capital is key factor that effects economic growth in both developed and developing nations (Fernandez & Paolo, 3). Much of the economic growth in the United States and other countries around the world can be attributed to accumulation of human capital. With introduction of conscription, the country’s stock of skilled workers would reduce greatly. The economic growth would be negatively affected by this reduction in human capital.
The emergence of computing technology introduced a new form of labor market bias that discriminates against unskilled workers. Because skilled are able to work with or complement the technology, they are more productive and consequently get more pay. Those workers who are not skilled are left to compete against technology which has proven to be more efficient, productive and accurate that human beings on such tasks that are performed by unskilled workers. As a result, people who draft in the army and do not pursue further education would face market discrimination. They would earn lower wages because their demand in the market is low. This would put the population at a disadvantage. The situation would be made worse by globalization which allows labor to move much like other factors of production to move. There would an influx of skilled labor from other parts of the world at the expense of local labor.
Conscription and Crime
Most people who engage in crime begin participating in crime as young adults or in their juvenile ages. One of the determinants of a person’s initiation into crime is the live events that affect an individual. Military conscription is one of the major life events that has been seen to increase the likelihood of an individual to join crime. Military conscription has a great potential to increase the rate of crimes in a country. A study conducted to test relationship between crime and military service show a trend that confirms that conscription is harmful to a country. Study results show that there is an increased probability of engaging in crime in adulthood with participation in compulsory military service (Galiani, Martin & Ernesto 8).
There are several things that may lead to the increased likelihood of engaging in crime as a result of conscription. One of the reasons is that the overall military training that an individual receives reduces the costs of entry into crime. It also diminishes the natural barriers that bar most people from committing crime such as violent acts. Military service also delays the individual’s entry into the labor market. Such delay affects the person’s future opportunities. Conscription reduces a person’s chances of participating in the labor market effectively.
In the United States, violent crimes are a common occurrence. Such crimes have always been blamed on issues such as poverty. However, the issue of compulsory military service would introduce another complication to the problem. Unemployment is generally low in the U.S. compared to other countries globally. Regardless, crimes are recorded on a daily basis. With such crimes, the possibility of increasing crime as a result of compulsory military service makes it unreasonable to establish such a policy.
Conscription in most cases where it has been applied mostly coincides with an individual’s early adulthood. This is usually a period of numerous transitions in life such as job seeking, joining college, and leaving one’s home among others. Mature personalities are developed in this period. Joining the military service interrupts a young person’s life. As a result of conscription, an individual’s subjective wellbeing is greatly reduced. This is partly because it would restrict a person’s freedoms. Individuals who join the military voluntarily do not experience negative subjective wellbeing. However, for people who are forced, their subjective well beings are negatively affected. This in turn affects a person’s personality. People may develop a negative personality after being in compulsory military service (Schult & Jorn, 12).
Negative Implications for the Government
The Government of the United States already spends billions of money on social welfare programs for both the military and civilians. In addition to this, the government also incurs huge expenditures on the veterans’ welfare programs. Compulsory military service would increase the numbers of people on welfare programs related to the military in the United States to unprecedented levels. The total expenditure on the defense program would outstrip any other government expenditure programs.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the United States, the average personnel benefits per service member of the military have experience a 72 percent growth from 1980 to the present period. The average medical programs expenditures per service member for the U.S military have also experience a 318 percent growth over the same period. These figures are have been collected over the period when the U.S has been using voluntary personnel in the army. If the government were to require all citizens to serve in the military at some point in their life, then the expenditures would be expected to shoot upwards even more rapidly.
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In addition to increases in social welfare programs, the government would also incur more expenditures because it would need to equip every individual that is enlisted. These costs would be unfeasible in the current economy. It would make little sense to have all government revenues used up in defense. Also considering that the economy’s stock of human capital would be deteriorating, there would also be a decline in economic growth. Under such circumstances, there would a major crisis in the country because most government programs would cease to function for lack of funding.
There is an additional issues that arises from compulsory military service that makes it a less efficient way of running the military. According to Poutvaara & Andreas (7) “compulsory service is likely to lead into an inefficient organization within the military or the welfare sector.” The inefficiency would occur because the commanders in the military would view the drafted personnel as cheap labor. This would lead them to use less capital and more labor. The personnel costs described above would also increase rapidly in proportion to the overall military expenditure. This is despite the general view that the draftees are underpaid.
There is also a possibility that an army based on compulsory service would tend not to use advanced technology. This is because it would take a lot of time teach the short term military personnel sophisticated military technology and techniques. It would not be efficient or even feasible to have such technology or training on such a large military personnel. Current advances in military on the other hand seem to lean towards technology than numbers. Having large numbers of military personnel without modern military technologies would be counterproductive. The army would constantly suffer more fatalities and casualties leading to greater human suffering. In addition, high levels of deaths and injuries would prove costly to a state as compared to a professional army. The state would have to pay huge social benefits to the injured soldiers and to the families of the dead soldiers. The state would also incur even more expenses on the medical programs for the injured soldiers as well as disability benefits to those who suffer permanent injuries.
This analysis has shown that it is not socially or economically feasible for all Americans to serve in the military. Conscription of the American population would weaken both the economy and the military. In addition to the weakening of the economy, it would also disadvantage the people under the current open economy. Such a policy should not find its way back in the United States. Instead, the government would rather invest more in military training, and research and development activities. This would reduce the overall defense budget because the government would need a smaller professional army with unmatched training, equipment and technology to back them.
- Bauer, Thomas., Stefan, Bender., Alfredo, Paloyo. & Christoph, Schmidt. “Evaluating the Labor-Market Effects of Compulsory Military Service: A Regression-Discontinuity Approach.” 2009, Ruhr Economic Papers, 141.
- Congressional Budget Office. Trends in the Department of Defense’s Support Costs. Congressional Budget Office, 2017.
- Fernandez, Enric. & Paolo, Mauro. “The Role of Human Capital in Economic Growth: The Case of Spain.” 2000, IMF Working Paper, WP/00/8.
- Galiani, Sebastian., Martin, Rossi. & Ernesto, Schargrodsky. “Conscription and Crime.” 2006, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, 4037.
- Poutvaara, Panu. & Andreas, Wagener. “Conscription: Economic Costs and Political Allure.” The Economics of Peace and Security journal, 2 (1), 2007, pp. 6 – 15.
- Schult, Johannes. & Jorn, Sparfeldt. Compulsory Military Service and Personality Development. German Socio-Economic Panel Study, 2015.
- Torun, Huzeyfe. & Semih, Tumen. “The Effects of Compulsory Military Service Exemption on Education and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment.” 2015, Munich Personal RePEc Archive, 61722.