September 26, 2007

"How come 'national service' proponents never talk about drafting the old?"

Great question, by Ilya Somin.
[T]he moral case for conscripting the elderly for civilian service is arguably stronger than that for drafting the young. Many elderly people are healthy enough to perform nonstrenuous forms of "national service." Unlike the young, the elderly usually won't have to postpone careers, marriage and educational opportunities to fulfill their forced-labor obligations. Moreover, the elderly, to a far greater extent than the young, are beneficiaries of massive government redistributive programs, such as Social Security and Medicare--programs that transfer enormous amounts of wealth from other age groups to themselves. Nonelderly poor people who receive welfare benefits are required to work (or at least be looking for work) under the 1996 welfare reform law; it stands to reason that the elderly (most of whom are far from poor) can be required to work for the vastly larger government benefits that they receive.
Great issue! Somin thinks politicians focus on the young is that they don't vote. Old people do, and they'll blow a gasket if anyone tries to push them around. (And, lest you rile them, you'd better pay for all the drugs they see fit to take.)

Another thing is that young people are assumed to need training to fit into an orderly and good society. They tend to be in a state of flux, footloose, and full of dangerous passions. We old people are scared -- and jealous. So even as we're devising schemes to make our lives a bed of ease, we're thinking up new ways to control you. How lovely it is when you serve us.

41 comments:

Seven Machos said...

It is really hilarious that the same people who won't stand for locking away enemy combatants want to forcibly conscript normal Americans for a year or two of slave labor.

I know. I know. I am a chicken hawk. I didn't serve humanity in a youth slave labor camp. So I have no right to talk.

Plus, it's these kids today. All their binge drinking. Why can't they be like we were?

EnigmatiCore said...

"How come 'national service' proponents never talk about drafting the old?"

This might be the easiest Althouse relayed question ever.

Because the old vote in massive numbers. As such, any politician backing such an idea would have their career ended at the next election and would find few other politicians willing to join in that effort and fate.

Bob said...

I don't favor drafting anyone, myself. I think that perhaps it might be an interesting idea to have voluntary national service in either military, Peace Corps or perhaps CCC-style organizations for a two-year term in exchange for, example, free healthcare thereafter.

Potential doctors could receive free schooling in exchange for a four-year term at a government health facility.

Those are my ideas, anyway. I don't presume to know how much they would cost, or whether they would work. :)

The Drill SGT said...

I think Ilya misses the point. The draft proponents generally make one or both of these points.

1. we need a larger army, a military draft by itself would be unfair because it would only impact a few, and some have reservations about military service, so lets draft a larger pool, and allow civilian service (aka emptying bed pans in the VA hospital)

2. It's about character building. young people should feel part of society and the way to do that is to go through a socializing egalitarian service assignment.

Seven Machos said...

Old people need character-building, too.

AllenS said...

Having been drafted into the Army in 1966, you can probably guess what my thoughts are about this.

Simon said...

"omin thinks politicians focus on the young is that they don't vote."

I think that's almost exactly backwards, actually. Look at who talks about the draft today; look at who introduces the bills in Congress to bring back the draft. Almost exclusively those who are opposed to the war and want it over, right? Their goal isn't to reinstate the draft, it's to frighten young voters into voting (and more to the point, voting for Democrats) by leveraging the threat of their being drafted if they don't.

Pogo said...

Wonderful post, especially
"So even as we're devising schemes to make our lives a bed of ease, we're thinking up new ways to control you. How lovely it is when you serve us.".

The Drill SGT said...

In all fairness to Ilya, if you got the VC you'll see he's on a 13th Amendment binge (slavery and involuntary servitude). wondering about whether the previous and future drafts voilate it, etc.

He's doing think pieces on various topics rather than promoting or opposing Iraq

MadisonMan said...

How old is old, I wonder?

AJ Lynch said...

I have also noticed that the kids of the proponents rarely did much volunteer service themselves (1.e. Chelsey Clinton).

It's too bad this young demographic is generally a "non-voting bloc" because if they did vote in their interests, Congress would be forced to fix Medicare and Social Security for the long haul.

Balfegor said...

It's too bad this young demographic is generally a "non-voting bloc" because if they did vote in their interests, Congress would be forced to fix Medicare and Social Security for the long haul.

A long-term fix of Social Security is almost certainly going to involve raising the retirement age, reducing benefits, or both. With these changes, we're the ones who will pay for it, whether they're put in now, or in the future. Besides, those of us who are young who are even thinking about this probably just kind of assume there won't be any reliable benefits in the future, because that ponzi scheme is going to go bankrupt before we retire. I know whenever I look at the retirement calculators I zero out my future social security, because I don't expect to see a cent of that. I'm certainly not going to count on it.

Of course, I would be delighted to see that fat social security security tax disappear from my paycheck every month. That's money in the pocket, after all. But it's not a current, existential "Will I be able to sustain my lifestyle" problem, the way social security is for many old people. And on the flip side, I suppose, if I were poorer, that social security tax would potentially hurt a lot more, since my marginal utility per dollar -- or at least my hedonic marginal utility -- would be higher (and the tax is regressive at higher income levels). But as it is, it's an annoyance, but not something I could become a single issue voter over. And I think that's true of a lot of young people in my age cohort.

knoxwhirled said...

It's too bad this young demographic is generally a "non-voting bloc" because if they did vote in their interests, Congress would be forced to fix Medicare and Social Security for the long haul.


Indeed. I say boomers have to serve 2 years to receive their social security from the system that they refuse to change so that the rest of us (including their own children and grandchildren) can get ZERO--and get taxed out the wazoo in the process.

Zach said...

I think that perhaps it might be an interesting idea to have voluntary national service in either military, Peace Corps or perhaps CCC-style organizations for a two-year term in exchange for, example, free healthcare thereafter.

The taxpayers would get a raw deal from your hypothetical. Two years of makework in return for tens of thousands of dollars in future medical bills.

The downside of CCC-type work is that there's very little need for it. Contractors will readily and eagerly do any public works projects you're willing to pay for. There's really no need for a vast workforce with unrelated educations and a short time horizon to enter the picture.

Before setting up a program of national service, how about identifying a national need? Two years of youth are very valuable, and we shouldn't call on people to give them if we could serve the same goal with different means.

NSC said...

Assuming he is defining "old" as being in perhaps the late 30s, 40s or 50s, then there is a obvious reason not to draft them. They are driving the economy. They hold jobs and pay taxes, buy houses and cars and groceries, go on vacations, invest in the stock market, etc.

Eighteen through, say, twenty-two aren't, for the most part anyway. They have a world of potential, yes, but drafting them is a value-added to society in terms of providing them with training and giving them a sense of belonging to our society. Drafting the old does none of that and actually takes away from society.

That being said, a draft would be the worst thing we could do to our military.

Zach said...

Eighteen through, say, twenty-two aren't, for the most part anyway. They have a world of potential, yes, but drafting them is a value-added to society in terms of providing them with training and giving them a sense of belonging to our society.

And it's value lost to society by displacing prime educational and training years. Where were you from 18 to 22? I was in college and grad school.

Pogo said...

A modest proposal:

Rather than enlist the elderly in some make-work service, invite 65 year olds to receive $250,000 if they agree to be euthanized at age 66. An alternative would be to encourage them to drink and smoke heavily.

Think of the savings!

AJ Lynch said...

Pogo:

Think about what you just suggested- you created a whole new industry for bounty hunters to hunt down those who took the big payout at age 65 then went into hiding to avoid the euthanasia at age 66.

In fact I think you just sketched out a great idea for the next great reality TV show.

AJ Lynch said...

Knoxwhirled:

I agree with you.

Do the math, how the fluff can the govt take 12% of your pay for 40 years then tell you the system is going broke and your social security check will have to be smaller. They are frigging thieves- there is no other way to say it.

If you went to ten financial planners and said you were going to save 12% of your pay for 40 years, every one of them would tell you would have plenty of money for retirement!!!

Yeah Yeah Yeah I know some of you will say a portion of the 12% goes to sick, disabled, etc but still it is a raw deal and the young should stand up and say enough- fix it already.

Cedarford said...

One of the memes that is present in discussions of national service is that many believe that citizenship and entitlement to benefits must be earned - rather than being a one-way "right".

A variant of that is the Robert A Heinlein "Starship Troopers" model that was used in the Roman Empire and several progressive Euro countries and Israel. You need to do universal national service to qualify as a full citizen with full rights.

Others sensibly ask why we give away citizenship to a spawn of an illegal invader into America automatically.

Others wish to tie benefits to contributions - you get X from the government (namely your fellow citizens), so you should reciprocate and contribute Y - X's rough equivalent in labor, taxes, service, payback in better times.

We do have a problem with America dividing between parasites and contributors, between people who volunteer and those that feel it is a waste of their leisure time. And worse, our massive financial deficits are driven by entitlement spending with no effort to defray the costs by requiring beneficiaries to contribute in other ways to hold costs lower.

I have no problem with requiring youth to do national service, requiring parasites like the NOLA ones to work for their emergency shelter after Katrina instead of just being given nice accomodations with no reciprocity. (40% of trailers the NOLA parasites lived in were destroyed past the ability to repair them. In hotels, 35% of the accomodations were moderately to severely damaged by the parasites, with taxpayers sucking up tens of millions to compensate owners).

Old people can chip in too, especially the ones that cannot establish they had any record in their working lives of national or hands on charity organization service. Tie in light work as required to get "full medicare, social security" payments. No work, they get discounted benefits.

Cedarford said...

Zach said...
"Eighteen through, say, twenty-two aren't, for the most part anyway. They have a world of potential, yes, but drafting them is a value-added to society in terms of providing them with training and giving them a sense of belonging to our society."

And it's value lost to society by displacing prime educational and training years. Where were you from 18 to 22? I was in college and grad school.

Yeah, Zack, society would suffer immensely if it was forced to defer your college and grad school by 2 years of national service as the Euros all did in the Cold War and some still do now (Sweden, Germany, Israel..Netherlands)

And generally, nations have found that Vets with 2-4 years of discipline and maturity strongly outperform students right out of high school and have higher lifetime incomes.

And, if you think your education is too important to defer, as several neocon children have claimed as the reason they support other people serving but it would be a crime to deprive America of their Ivy League degree and high income job - by all means do so - and put in your two years in the military or hospitals or long-term care facilities after you have your grad degree.

Or even when you are older, if you want deferral to ensure your career is "well-established"..just as long as you do it as a qualifier before you get any SS or medicare benefits..a government job, and federal contracts or grant funds.

Even NOLA parasites that want to defer because they have "chillun" parasites they bred and must care for..they also should have 2 years national service obligated..even if it is picking up trash along the roads with a baby backpack for 2 years...or deferred until all the "chilluns" are in school.

NSC said...

And it's value lost to society by displacing prime educational and training years. Where were you from 18 to 22? I was in college and grad school.

From 18 to 21 I was in college. At 22 I was in Officers Training School and shortly thereafter I was commissioned a 2d Lt in the United States Air Force.

Again, I am totally against a draft, but that displacement of prime educational and training years is only partial and temporary. They are getting valuable leadership and technical training in the military and it can be argued that they will be MORE prepared and mature for college once they leave the service.

EnigmatiCore said...

NOLA parasites? "Chilluns"?

Mein Gott.

Trooper York said...

Det. Thorn: It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They're making our food out of people. Next thing they'll be breeding us like cattle for food. You've gotta tell them. You've gotta tell them!
Hatcher: I promise, Tiger. I promise. I'll tell the exchange.
Det. Thorn: You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher. You've gotta tell them! Soylent Green is people! We've gotta stop them somehow!
(Soylent Green, 1973)

AllenS said...

I was in the Army for all of 1967. I made PFC in Jan., then Spec. 4 in September, collected combat pay Oct., Nov., Dec. (can't remember the amount), collected jump pay ($50 a mo.) for the entire year.

Hear is what my Wage and Tax Statement from 1967 says:

Wages $1622.36
Fed Tax $141.48
FICA $73.22
I paid no state tax (NC)

For what ever reason, I never filed my taxes that year, and have all of the copies of the statement.

Balfegor said...

Yeah, Zack, society would suffer immensely if it was forced to defer your college and grad school by 2 years of national service as the Euros all did in the Cold War and some still do now (Sweden, Germany, Israel..Netherlands)

Is it right out of high school, or is it right after college? My uncles (in Korea) did their service after college, if I recall correctly. I think one even had to return to Korea to fulfill the requirement, since he'd attended a school out in the United States.

All things considered, I would be fine if they implemented national service, and would have been fine in high school and college had they done so. My position then was that I'd whine, but if society calls, it's youth's place to suck it up and do what their elders tell them to.

Freeman Hunt said...

This brings up an issue that should get more press: the young are getting screwed by the old.

While we are trying to begin careers and start families, older people, who have far more money than we do, are taxing the bejesus out of us to pay for their bloated entitlements.

Kirk said...

MM,

"How old is old, I wonder?"

Well, if you have to ask, you probably are. :-)

Pogo said...

Freeman is right.

All of the entitlement programs were built on a Ponzi scheme, entirely dependent on either (1)always having more young people than old or (2) dealing with it later, when (1) fell apart.

FDR was counting on point (2), as records showed.

rhhardin said...

I think nobody understands economics. Both sides profit from any voluntary service. Otherwise it wouldn't happen.

If both sides profit, the standards of living of both sides rise, and the total standard of living rises.

That's why you want people in jobs : not to keep them off the streets, but so that the standard of living of the nation rises. The more transactions, the higher the standard of living, provided the transactions are voluntary.

Voluntary is a gate-keeper. The thing has to be worthwhile or it won't happen. Worthwhile means there's enough value so that both sides come out ahead.

That isn't true with involuntary service. It's simply a patronage item, taking something out of one person's hide to give it to another person.

Revenant said...

if you got the VC you'll see he's on a 13th Amendment binge (slavery and involuntary servitude)

He's got a rock-solid argument that a "national service" requirement would violate the 13th Amendment, too.

Trooper York said...

Logan: NO! Don't go in there! You don't have to die! No one has to die at 30! You could live! LIVE! Live, and grow old! I've seen it! She's seen it! [Shows the crystal on his palm]
Logan: Well, look! LOOK! LOOK, IT'S CLEAR! [Crowd laughs]
P.A. System: Lastday, Capricorn 29's. Year of the City: 2274. Carousel begins.
Jessica: No! Don't! Don't go! Listen to him! He's telling the truth!
[More laughter]
Jessica: We've been outside! There's another world outside! We've seen it!
[Sandmen grab them]
Logan: Life clocks are a lie! Carousel is a lie! THERE IS NO RENEWAL
(Logan's Run 1976)

Blake said...

Trooper,

"Soylent Green is my kind of people!" -- Bubblegum Tate, "Futurama"

Fry: What if...Slurm is made out of people?
Leela: There's already a drink like that: Soylent Cola.
Fry: How is it?
Leela: It varies from person to person.
"Futurama"

Trooper York said...

Now that's entertainment. Adult Swim beats the hell out of meet the press any day of the week. Except that the Walrus guy on Futurama looks exactly like Tim Russert.

Zach said...


And, if you think your education is too important to defer, as several neocon children have claimed as the reason they support other people serving but it would be a crime to deprive America of their Ivy League degree and high income job - by all means do so - and put in your two years in the military or hospitals or long-term care facilities after you have your grad degree.


And still you evade the question. What is the national need that justifies putting off young people's lives for two years? The point is that those years are valuable. Society would be worse off, because every member of society has to give two years of useless service instead of doing something they'd rather be doing.

Your example of working for hospitals or caring for the elderly is a terrible idea. People do that for a living. They spend years of training -- those very same years that you value so little -- learning to do those jobs well. Society would be far worse off if we had legions of poorly trained (training time is time that can't be devoted to service, remember) short-term draftees driving those caregivers out of business.

The reason national service ideas never get off the ground (and shouldn't!) is because it's so hard to come up with scenarios where the nation honestly needs the short-term, minimally trained labor that a labor levy can be expected to provide. A military draft in a time of total mobilization is almost the only case I can think of. In almost every other case, you would be better off buying the labor on the open market from people who want to provide it.

Bruce Hayden said...

I would make the displacement argument that national service of the young for two years pushes off for two years the time when they finish their educations, two years from when they are fully skilled at such, etc., and given a fixed retirement age, two years less being economically productive.

Of course, you could argue that not everyone ever becomes productive. But one answer to that might be to draft only those who weren't.

Another big issue I think is the question about pregnant women and then new mothers. During the Vietnam draft, we didn't see that because women were not drafted. But we did see guys marrying and becoming fathers strictly to get out of the draft. Ditto for grad school, etc. And similarly, during the First Gulf War, we saw the number of women in the military who got pregnant skyrocket, as they apparently did so to avoid extended service overseas or at sea.

Of course, the solution would be to ignore their pregnancy, and when the babies were born, put them in government supplied day care so the mothers could work.

But we know that won't happen, so can likely expect that a number of women will use this to avoid such service.

But how is that fair to the guys who don't have this out?

Indeed, the draft was never fair to guys, excempting about half the population simply because they lacked a "Y" chromosone.

Mortimer Brezny said...

How lovely it is when you serve us.



Spoken like a woman.

Revenant said...

if you think your education is too important to defer

People's *careers* are too important to defer for some moronic government make-work program. Money doesn't grow on trees. People have to work in useful jobs to produce that wealth. Forcing them into involuntary servitude for which there is no actual demand means that they aren't performing work for which there IS demand.

Two years of "national service" would cost us a good half-trillion a year just in lost worker productivity, plus another couple of hundred billion in government taxation to pay for the program. All that, to fix a problem that doesn't even exist in the first place.

I agree that national service would teach young people some valuable lessons -- specifically, "men with guns can force you to do anything they want" and "old people, as a class, tend to be self-righteous assholes with a bottomless sense of personal entitlement". But there are plenty of good ways to teach those two lessons without flushing the better part of a trillion dollars down the toilet every single year.

Blake said...

Walrus guy? You mean...lobster-guy? Zoidberg, perhaps?

Mortimer Brezny said...

Come on. That website I linked to was hilarious.

Scott Kohlhaas said...

Good point!

Would you be willing to spread the word about www.draftresistance.org? It's a site dedicated to shattering the myths surrounding the selective slavery system and building mass civil disobedience to stop the draft before it starts!

Our banner on a website, printing and posting the anti-draft flyer or just telling friends would help.

Thanks!

Scott Kohlhaas

PS. When it comes to conscription, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!