This blog is all about the times that the market should give way to government intervention; however, I liked Stephen Levitt’s comment on military conscription too much not to post it up. It’s a great example of a case where an area traditionally managed by the government might be improved if we let the market have greater freedom. It’s also a classic Levitt-ism: where he applies economic reasoning to fields not usually studied by economists.
His idea is that, if military service was a job like any other, then soldiers would be paid commensurate to the dangers and hardships they endure. They would also be free to quit at anytime if they felt that they were not being paid a sufficient sum to compensate them for the risks they faced. This, in turn, would force the government to bear the true cost of waging a war: in war-time the troops wages would skyrocket along with the dangers they faced. In economic terms this must be considered far more efficient than the current situation.
The existence of mercenary troops and private security forces in Iraq is testimony to the fact that people are willing to work in that sort of environment if the wage is high enough. Of course, Levitt isn’t suggesting a privatised army, simply an army who can truly be called volunteers in wartime as well as in peacetime. Is that really as traitorous as the comments on his blog suggest?