Would Conscription Reduce Support for War?
37 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 22, 2012
An increasingly popular justification for conscription is that by changing the identities of those who bear the burden of fighting a nation’s wars, it limits, more than an all-volunteer force would, support for war. Under a draft, goes the argument, there is a higher probability that the “children” of more-affluent and politically powerful people could serve in the military, thus giving them an incentive to lobby against war. However, this argument neglects the fact that successfully avoiding war for a nation is a public good and is, therefore, subject to the classic free-rider problem. We develop a simple model to demonstrate that 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. We show that the effectiveness of using conscription as a means of diminishing political support for war relative to an all-volunteer force is limited. Empirical findings from the Vietnam War era and more recent history are consistent with our thesis.
Keywords: conscription, draft, military, war
JEL Classification: H56, D78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation