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October 8, 2004

should the draft be an issue?

In our recent poll with MTV (pdf), we found that 78% of young Americans oppose a draft, but 32% think there probably will be one. Graffiti and posters on my campus suggest that there is a pretty widespread rumor that Congress is considering a conscription bill. The root of the rumors may be Rep. Charlie Rangel's legislation to start a draft. Rangel is a liberal dove who sees universal conscription as a way to spread the burden of war to wealthy people and reduce the chances of foreign interventions. Republicans scheduled a vote on Rangel's bill on Tuesday so that they could kill it (in a 401-2 vote) and try to end the draft rumors.

I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, young people have concerns about a possible draft, and those concerns are not foolish. If politicians seriously debated the issue of conscription (and more generally, who should serve in uniform), they would respond to young people's concerns and perhaps increase their interest in politics. Furthermore, there are serious arguments in favor of conscription, as summarized in my Institute's Quarterly (pdf).

On the other hand, I personally believe that there is zero chance of a draft. I know that the Pentagon is having difficulty meeting its recruitment targets, but only by a few thousand people. There are 3.5 million 18-year-olds. To increase recruitment by drafting a large proportion of the young population makes no sense. To draft only one in fifty thousand would create a "negative lottery" and undermine morale in the military and society at large. It would be far cheaper to increase the bonuses for signing up or lower the eligibility requirements a notch. To be sure, we could face a draft after a massive terrorist attack on US soil; but then conscription would be the least of our problems.

I'm somewhat unwilling to respond to youth concerns by demanding a public discussion of the draft, if there is no real prospect of conscription.

(Rock the Vote has been pushing the issue, but in a generally responsible way. See this page.)

Update: Matthew Yglesias cites even higher levels of concern about the draft among young people (51%) than we found and argues that there's a real risk of conscription if Bush is reelected. Yglesias is young enough to be called up, so no wonder he's worried.

Posted by peterlevine at 4:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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