Would Conscription Reduce Support for War?
By David Henderson
A number of prominent people in recent years as well as many people I run into in academia have been arguing that one virtue of returning to conscription is that it would put the sons of wealthy and politically powerful people at more risk of going to war and would, therefore, cause those same people to be more opposed to foreign adventurism than otherwise.
On its face, this argument made some sense to me. I didn’t like the argument because on other grounds I oppose conscription. But it made sense.
Some time ago, though, my colleague Chad W. Seagren and I started talking about it and we concluded that the argument is very weak. We’ve now written an academic paper on it, “Would Conscription Reduce Support for War?”, that is sitting for review at an economics journal. Here’s are argument in a nutshell:
Successfully avoiding war for a nation is a public good and is, therefore, subject to the classic free-rider problem. The under-provision of anti-war agitation from those seeking to avoid the draft is exacerbated by the fact that seeking a deferment provides an alternative with a superior private payoff. Resources that an affluent or politically powerful person devotes to preventing or stopping a war will not likely have a noticeable effect on the overall outcome. In contrast, resources spent to secure a deferment or non-combat assignment for a loved one have a tangible effect on a private good. Empirical findings from the Vietnam War era and more recent history are consistent with our thesis.