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Reaping Cannon Fodder

January 19, 2007

Tags Free MarketsOther Schools of ThoughtProduction Theory

The Republican Party has enjoyed undeserved credit among some libertarians for appearing to oppose that program of interference in voluntary transactions known as the Minimum Wage. Now, it appears that a forty-percent increase over the next two years might be OK after all.

Has the curmudgeonly Republican Party finally developed a concern for the economically downtrodden worker? Does a newly more-conciliatory administration now see the need to cooperate with the new Democrat majority in Congress? Or has the administration discovered in this reviled policy a means of advancing other goals — goals even more odious than the effects of the minimum wage?

A review of the administration's agenda of at least the past four years yields a surprise answer to the last question. Not surprising is the agenda item on which the answer is based: the ever-multiplying military conflagrations around the world that the administration has dragooned the American population into supporting. It seems that in the fourth year of intractable warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, American soldiers and sailors who still haven't been killed or disabled are getting tired. Even the most-gung-ho of its members are experiencing understandable fatigue at the prospect of a fourth deployment to one of the combat zones.

No mention of fatigue on the part of the troops' relatives or the American taxpayers who foot the bill accompanies discussions of this phenomenon. As for the objects of all this hurtful largess — al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their ilk — their energy and enthusiasm seem only to grow.

The solution to this problem? Why, more, of course. The Bush administration plans to propose an increase to the statutorily authorized size of the army and the marines, and dispatch 30,000 to 40,000 of them to the war zones as soon as they learn how to offer attractive targets. However, this increase obviously doesn't fill the ranks — it just expands the number of recruits the army and marines will need to fill those ranks, and from this arises the next of the unending problems created by America's expansive role as meddler in the world's military misfortunes: where to get all that fresh cannon fodder.

Of course, ideas, even from the Democrat opposition, are not wanting. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) would be quite pleased to have the Republican administration institute a draft — before the next election, if you don't mind. And the Republicans rather do mind taking the blame for any such proposal, which would have to at least appear to draft the sons and daughters of congressmen, campaign-fund donors, and loyal voters impartially along with young men and women who were brought into this world in order to qualify their mothers for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and everybody else.

Then there's the nonstarter of competing on the labor market for the needed human input, the same way Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and supposedly even the federal civil service have to do. Now that would be a pretty pass! The world's most-formidable engine of destruction and coercion offering monetary inducements to join in its merry games and, no doubt, end up getting drafted anyway, not at the time of induction, but at the time at which the serviceman or -woman was scheduled to leave the military.

No, raising its own minimum wage was far too expensive for the military to consider. And the increase in costs such a move would entail would make world domination look like an even worse deal than it already appears to be. Only the private sector, which is already paying for everything else, could afford such payday extravagance.

Could there be something else besides a draft or pushing up the number at the bottom of the butcher's bill to bring the young'uns flocking in at the gates to augment the mighty host required to defend America? Why … yes! Why not snatch the laurels of altruism from the opposition's brow and boost the number of "volunteers" all in one, magnanimous stroke? Simply diminish the private economy's ability to compete for the hungry, young prizes!

Ignorance being such a very renewable resource, no one will figure it out: it is done by appearing to enhance the private sector's (private ownership is now only a sector of the American economy) offer to the untrained, entry-level young people continually pouring out of high schools and universities.

Everybody knows that an increase in the federal minimum wage constitutes a "raise" to all those who work now or will work in the near future at the lowest legal rate of pay. Why, 650 prominent economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, recently signed an open letter in support of raising the minimum wage.

Now, the minority, non-Nobel-Prize-winning view that is found, for example, among Austrian economists and 13,000 labor economists, holds, along with the Law of Supply and Demand, that if the price of a good (or service, like labor) is raised, less of it will be bought.

This means that employment among the young, the inexperienced, and unskilled will decline with the institution of a higher minimum wage. And at last count, 1.9 million Americans were working for the minimum wage. Not only these jobs, but all the millions more jobs between the present minimum wage and the new minimum wage, are threatened.

The civilian alternative for fresh high-school drop-outs and graduates will indeed seem superior to the military alternative by an increased margin. And it will be unattainable to that many more of them. Now, the recruiter will be able to choose, not just among those who can't compete for the scarce jobs that pay $5.15 per hour, but among those many more who can't win one of the even-scarcer jobs that pay $7.25 per hour — not only more cannon fodder, but better as well, all thanks to that "raise" the government "gave" them!

Who ever said welfare and warfare don't go hand in hand?

Note

I am indebted to Joe Fullmer for first conceiving the idea presented here.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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