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Wall Street Journal Website Reprints My Blog Post on National Service and the Young:

The Wall Street Journal online has chosen to reprint my blog post on the reasons my mandatory "national service" proposals tend to target the young, despite the fact that there are at least equally good reasons for focusing on the elderly or the middle-aged instead. See here.

Unfortunately, the WSJ accidentally introduced a minor error that I would like to correct: The "Democratic Leadership Conference" is in fact the "Democratic Leadership Council" (I just had "DLC" in the original post, which may have led to the mistake when the WSJ staff spelled out the abbreviation).

Siona Sthrunch (mail):
It was a good post.
9.26.2007 5:58pm
AK (mail):
It's unfortunate that, again, you miss the opportunity to confront the plain fact that 18-year-olds have lower opportunity costs than 65-year-olds. The marginal product of labor for an 18-year-old is little more than minimum wage. The MPL of an experienced worker is many times that. It's terribly inefficient to take an worker away from a job where he produces $100 of output per hour to put him in a job where he produces $10 of output per hour. It makes far more sense to take a person producing $10 of output per hour and force him into a different job where he produces $10 per hour.

And why should we care about this "postponing marriage" business? Three years off the beginning of a marriage is the same as three years taken out of the middle of a marriage. If you're going to take a man away from his wife, isn't it better to take him away before they've even gotten married?
9.26.2007 6:00pm
John (mail):
Nice post Ilya. But I have a contrary solution to several problems at once:
1. compulsory service for 18 year olds. We are a rich enough country now to keep these people out of the workforce and in college until their 20's, so there is no economic minus to this, and there could be plusses.
2. Each participant gets a B.A. after the service is up, and doesn't have to go to college.
3. the number of colleges will therefore shrink, which also will be of no consequence since they serve mostly as holding pens and social centers for their occupants.
4. Many professors will then have to find socially useful jobs. Perhaps supervising those doing the compulsory service.
5. I realize some of the factual assertions in the above may be disputed, but probably only weakly.
9.26.2007 6:09pm
CJColucci:
I came late to this topic, but what about mandatory militia service?
9.26.2007 6:14pm
Ilya Somin:
It's unfortunate that, again, you miss the opportunity to confront the plain fact that 18-year-olds have lower opportunity costs than 65-year-olds.

That ignores the fact tha many 65 year olds are retired.
9.26.2007 6:18pm
Ilya Somin:
It's terribly inefficient to take an worker away from a job where he produces $100 of output per hour to put him in a job where he produces $10 of output per hour. It makes far more sense to take a person producing $10 of output per hour and force him into a different job where he produces $10 per hour.

That argument wouldn' justify focusing on age. It would justify a draft based on income (focusing exclusively on the poor of whatever age group).
9.26.2007 6:19pm
Felix Sulla:
You did promise us your prior post on the "forced labor" issue would be your last, Professor. I for one am disappointed.
9.26.2007 6:41pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
This post isn't about forced labor. It's about the WSJ's online content!
9.26.2007 6:56pm
Cornellian (mail):
The Wall Street Journal online has chosen to reprint my blog post on the reasons my mandatory "national service" proposals tend to target the young, despite the fact that there are at least equally good reasons for focusing on the elderly or the middle-aged instead.

I hope the WSJ isn't claiming their reprint is fair use.
9.26.2007 7:09pm
Le Messurier (mail):
It's unfortunate that, again, you miss the opportunity to confront the plain fact that 18-year-olds have lower opportunity costs than 65-year-olds.


That ignores the fact that many 65 year olds are retired.


Ilya:

Not all of us are retired. I will have to keep working as long as I'm able. If I were "conscripted" into a low paying job I would lose my house and much else.
9.26.2007 9:27pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
"National service" programs are targeted at young people for the same reason that even more rights-depriving laws are targeted at even younger people: the young in general are assumed to have worse judgment, and therefore to benefit more from paternalistic laws guiding (i.e., restricting) their choice of activities.

Most people, for example, would consider a law requiring ten-year-olds to attend school to be quite reasonable, on the grounds that whatever children would otherwise choose to do with their time is almost certain to be less beneficial for them in the long run than attending school. There are counterarguments, of course--but simply deriding anti-truancy laws as "forced indoctrination", and noting derisively that they always seem to be targeted at disenfranchised children, rather than, say, the retired elderly, rather misses the point.

Similarly, the "national service" programs I've read about never suggest that 18-21-year-olds be required to perform hard labor in factories or mines. Rather, the proposed programs would send young adults to work in hospitals, homes for the aged, and other places where they would (the advocates of national service hope) learn valuable life lessons that would most likely pass them by if they were left to their own devices.

One can, of course, dispute the claimed relative value--or even the existence--of these educational benefits. But to ignore the claim altogether--as Ilya seems to have done--is to completely miss the attraction of, and one of the primary arguments for, "national service" programs.
9.26.2007 9:46pm
Ken Arromdee:
Rather, the proposed programs would send young adults to work in hospitals, homes for the aged, and other places where they would (the advocates of national service hope) learn valuable life lessons that would most likely pass them by if they were left to their own devices.

If the government benefits from this free work, it has a conflict of interest when deciding that working for free benefits the workers.
9.27.2007 12:06am
AK (mail):
It's unfortunate that, again, you miss the opportunity to confront the plain fact that 18-year-olds have lower opportunity costs than 65-year-olds.

--That ignores the fact that many 65 year olds are retired.--


That doesn't make much of a difference, and to the extent that it does make a difference, it supports the argument opposite the one you're trying to make.

A retired 65 year old has chosen to give up the opportunity to make $100 per hour so that he can enjoy leisure. He values his card games and walks in the park at more than $100 per hour. But if you gave an 18 year old the choice between sitting around playing Xbox or working for $100 per hour - or even $25 per hour - he'd take the money.

Ultimately, the retired value their free time more than the young do. They lose more utility when they're forced to work than young people do.
9.27.2007 11:28am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
LOL, wait until all the equity-collateralized subprime student loans repackaged ans old on the secondary market collapse by the billions in exponential defaults, and the rich campaign donars to the Republicans get the defaulters conscripted for National Service -- forced labor.

Think it won't happen?

Observe early signs -- the Sallie Mae v. BofA merger fight now erupting.
9.27.2007 11:28am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
If the government benefits from this free work, it has a conflict of interest when deciding that working for free benefits the workers.

I'm not sure I understand this distinction between "the government" benefiting and the country as a whole benefiting. Certainly, members of Congress claiming that young people would learn valuable life lessons by acting as lackeys for members of Congress might be accused of conflict of interest. (Then again, my impression is that that's just what the Congressional page program amounts to, and nobody seems to mind it.) But if putting young people to work in hospitals and old-age homes benefits "goverment" in the sense that it saves tax money that would otherwise go to hospital and old-age home workers, then whether it benefits "government" or taxpayers seems like a bit of an academic distinction.

(In fact, one of the most implacable obstacles to "national service" is the opposition of public-sector unions, who would much rather see government-mandated work done by highly-paid union members than by low-paid or unpaid "national service" inductees.)
9.27.2007 12:33pm