Public Service and Skin in the Game
Thomas Ricks laments that the combination of the all-volunteer military and lower top marginal rates mean that the wealthy have "checked out of America and moved into physical and mental gated communities." To solve this problem, he proposed bringing back the draft.
Thomas Ricks laments that the combination of the all-volunteer military and lower top marginal rates mean that the wealthy have “checked out of America and moved into physical and mental gated communities.” To solve this problem, he proposed bringing back the draft.
The military option. You do 18 months of military service. The leaders of the armed forces will kick and moan, but these new conscripts could do a lot of work that currently is outsourced: cutting the grass, cooking the food, taking out the trash, painting the barracks. They would receive minimal pay during their terms of service, but good post-service benefits, such as free tuition at any university in America. If the draftees like the military life, and some will, they could at the end of their terms transfer to the professional force, which would continue to receive higher pay and good benefits. (But we’d also raise the retirement age for the professional force to 30 years of service, rather than 20 as it is now. There is no reason to kick healthy 40-year-olds out of the military and then pay them 40 years of retirement pay.)
The civilian service option.Don’t want to go military? Not a problem. We have lots of other jobs at hand. You do two years of them — be a teacher’s aide at a troubled inner-city school, clean up the cities, bring meals to elderly shut-ins. We might even think about how this force could help rebuild the American infrastructure, crumbling after 30 years of neglect. These national service people would receive post-service benefits essentially similar to what military types get now, with tuition aid.
The libertarian opt-out. There is a great tradition of libertarianism in this country, and we honor it. Here, you opt out of the military and civilian service options. You do nothing for Uncle Sam. In return, you ask for nothing from him. For the rest of your life, no tuition aid, no federal guarantees on your mortgage, no Medicare. Anything we can take you out of, we will. But the door remains open — if you decide at age 50 that you were wrong, fine, come in and drive a general around for a couple of years.
This is rather daft.
First off, it would have zero impact on the problem. (And, I’m granting, for the sake of argument, that said problem exists.) The children of the rich would continue going straight to the best colleges their parents could get them into, choosing option 3. And they’re not getting federal tuition aid, mortgage guarantees, and so forth now.
Second, Ricks’ system would have the perverse downside of taking away the jobs of the poorest among us. All of the work being done now by those without marketable skills, enabling them to earn at least a subsistence income, would instead by done by kids coming out of high school and middle-aged people who facing the prospects of old age without health benefits.
Third, Ricks has managed to simultaneously bring back the draft and yet not increase our pool of young men who have undergone basic military training! Peeling potatoes, painting rocks, and driving generals aren’t exactly useful wartime skills.
Fourth, no Medicare? So, we’re going to give people free medical care for decades in exchange for 18-24 months of menial labor? But deny it to those who finance it but opted out of drudgework? That makes no sense whatsoever.
Fifth, do we really need our youth to waste 18-24 months of their formative years doing scutwork? Wouldn’t we be better off letting those who are college material get their degrees and then offer loan forgiveness for doing useful work afterwards?
Had Ricks’ plan been in existence in 1984, when I graduated high school, I’d very likely have opted for the military option. But, as it was, I opted for the military option. Partly because I wanted to serve and partly because I didn’t have the money for school, I joined ROTC and the Army Reserves, thereby cobbling enough money together to pay my education expenses as I went along. While I would likely have gone to better schools under Ricks’ system, I would have also wasted valuable time doing menial labor.