Krugman Feels a Draft

One of Krugman's best columns ever (where's that Pulitzer?): Feeling the Draft, makes exactly the right analogy:

Those who are worrying about a revived draft are in the same position as those who worried about a return to budget deficits four years ago, when President Bush began pushing through his program of tax cuts. Back then he insisted that he wouldn't drive the budget into deficit – but those who looked at the facts strongly suspected otherwise. Now he insists that he won't revive the draft. But the facts suggest that he will.

There were two reasons some of us never believed Mr. Bush's budget promises. First, his claims that his tax cuts were affordable rested on patently unrealistic budget projections. Second, his broader policy goals, including the partial privatization of Social Security – which is clearly on his agenda for a second term – would involve large costs that were not included even in those unrealistic projections. This led to the justified suspicion that his election-year promises notwithstanding, Mr. Bush would preside over a return to budget deficits.

It's exactly the same when it comes to the draft. Mr. Bush's claim that we don't need any expansion in our military is patently unrealistic; it ignores the severe stress our Army is already under. And the experience in Iraq shows that pursuing his broader foreign policy doctrine – the “Bush doctrine” of pre-emptive war – would require much larger military forces than we now have.

This leads to the justified suspicion that after the election, Mr. Bush will seek a large expansion in our military, quite possibly through a return of the draft.

Mr. Bush's assurances that this won't happen are based on a denial of reality.

The poignant part of this is that four years ago when Krugman pointed out that the Bush economic policies didn't add up, the GOP slime machine started calling him shrill and suggesting he was out of the mainstream (which is code for something like 'commie' or 'we don't have to listen to him').

But Krugman was right about the deficit.

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21 Responses to Krugman Feels a Draft

  1. Mojo says:

    I’m going to make a prediction that I hope never gets a chance to be tested (election gods willing). Bush will abide by his pledge to not institute a draft. Instead, he’ll cover the troop shortfalls by hiring many more armed private contractors for “security” work in Afghanistan and Iraq. This will have even more profound negative consequences.

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    This is of course a crock, in as much as when Bush took office, we’d had only a couple barely ballanced budgets in the last few decades. In fact, the only reason the budget was ballanced was that a stock market bubble had driven revenue up faster than Congress could spend it. (And they were visibly catching up.) Anyone playing the odds would have anticipated a return to deficit spending no matter who got elected, in as much as there had been no structural changes to cause future spending discipline.

    So the analogy, in order to work, would have to rely on the “fact” that we’ve relied on conscription to supply our military manpower for decade after decade, and had only managed to just fill them with volunteers that one year. Which is, of course, not remotely true; We’ve gotten by with volunteers for decades, mostly at force levels far higher than we are likely to need even if Bush becomes agressive after the election.

    Really, it’s pathetic to see the way Democrats are falling over each other to push this draft line. You really DON’T have any integrity, do you?

  3. Before anyone mistakes what I’m saying, I don’t even remotely want to suggest that Bush didn’t make the deficits worse than they had to be; The phrase “spending discipline” isn’t part of his vocabulary. The point is simply that this country had no record of being good at balancing it’s budget, but it DOES have a record of being able to raise a volunteer army far larger than Bush needs. So Krugman’s analogy is severely deficient.

  4. Steve Tornio says:

    My understanding is that conscripts were used by the US in the most recent major wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), leaving the first gulf war and our involvement in the Balkans as the only major military events for our all-volunteer forces. Neither of those involved significant ground forces for extended periods, and so they don’t demonstrate a “record of being able to raise a volunteer army far larger than Bush needs.” There is an interesting article in Slate today which compares the treatment of our reserves and National Guard forces to those conscripts of past wars.

    I tend to agree that a draft could be political suicide for Bush and the Republicans, but never underestimate the changing power of 9/11. When another attack occurs in the US, look to the administration to talk about how 12/6 (or whenever) changed everything, and even though it’s not as effective and we would prefer an all-volunteer army, it may be time to bring back the draft. To protect our freedoms.

    Incidentally, I’m curious about something. Why does Bush keep referring to an “all-volunteer Army”? Is the Army the only branch of service which uses the draft?

  5. Chris says:

    A draft wouldn’t enrich Bush’s friends and would be politically very unpopular, so I concur with Mojo in thinking it more expedient for him to hire armed contractors to cover military needs elsewhere. The drawbacks of this plan isn’t as immediately visible, so Bush wouldn’t have to deal with the political consequences right away.

    But consequences there are. I especially share Mojo’s concern about contracted “security” work (read: mercenaries). For more details on all the problems that come with using soldiers-for-hire, read Machiavelli. Or Roman history. We’d basically be entrusting our freedoms and safety to entrepreneurial armed gangs loyal only to those who pay them the most. Which could include al-Qaida as much as the US taxpayer.

    I also concur with Brett that the US has often been able to mobilize large-scale volunteer forces. The problem has been that the volunteer system historically only worked as a short-term solution to manpower needs. During long conflicts, like the civil war, the “active phases” of the cold war, whatever, the volunteer system was inadequate at raising the level of troops necessary for the mission. After all, why did our leaders need to resort to conscription if the volunteer system was working just peachy; however, the fact that we’ve done it in almost every major overseas conflict since 1863 is a sign that there’s a limit to what one can reasonably expect volunteer forces to accomplish. I’m not sure what has changed now that would alter this historical pattern, so it is hard to take the idea that we can satisfy troop levels with volunteers seriously, given our foreign policy entanglements and the threat of more to come. So what else is there to do besides (1) scaling back our foreign policy, (2) conscription, or (3) mercenaries?

  6. Chris says:

    Just a little update on how streched the troops are…

    Check out Brad DeLong’s site, where there’s news that the Blackhorse regiment–traditionally the players of OPFOR who give our soldiers realistic training in fighting all kinds of enemies–is being pulled out of training duties and sent to Iraq. If it isn’t enough that our troops are withdrawing from everywhere else in the world, we’re now down to sending our training regiments.

  7. After all, why did our leaders need to resort to conscription if the volunteer system was working just peachy;

    Because it let them pay the soldiers squat, that’s why. They had the mechanism in place, so they used it to save a bit of money.

    Tell me that we can’t do it without conscription, after we’ve TRIED to do it without conscription.

  8. Heidi says:

    So, Brett, how much would the government have to pay you to convince you to go to Iraq?

  9. Patrick (G) says:

    so I concur with Mojo in thinking it more expedient for him to hire armed contractors to cover military needs elsewhere.

    Except we”re already relying on a significant number of mercenaries in Iraq, and the pool of available qualified mercenaries is not nearly large enough.

    Oh how I wish that the Mayberry Machiavellis had a passing familiarity with Machiavelli’s The Prince.
    Particularly the points about “Don’t trust mercenaries” and “Don’t invade far off foreign lands, but if you do, don’t do it unless you are prepared to move there permanently.”

    To pacify Iraq militarily would probably require a permanent million soldier presence. Read George Bush’s lips all you want, but his choices are stark: Pull out in defeat or implement a draft.

  10. ...now I try to be amused says:

    Never mind the long-term problems with hiring more “contractors” (mercenaries); where would they come from? Mercenary firms do not train their own troops; every mercenary is an ex-soldier of a national army. (Think of national armies as college football and mercenary firms as the NFL; the latter takes advantage of the training and experience provided by the former.) There might still be some willing ex-soldiers out there who aren’t already working as mercenaries, but after they’re all hired the only source will be troops now serving in the armed forces — and they can’t quit because of stop-loss.

    Of course, the American mercenary firms could get around this by hiring foreigners. Then we’d have our own Hessians! Oh joy.

  11. ...now I try to be amused says:

    Afterword:

    The very presence of mercenaries in Iraq affects the morale of the regular troops. They see guys doing the same job they do, sometimes an safer and easier job, for far more money.

  12. Tom Maguire says:

    Thee is surely a better data source than the ones I found but…

    This is from a Pentagon planning paper in 1995:

    By the late 1980s, signals were clear that DoD was going to downsize. By conducting the Bottom-Up Review and taking a tough, comprehensive look at force structure, the Department determined that by 1999 the active duty force requirement would be 1.4 million — a significant drop from nearly 2.2 million on active duty in the late 1980s. Today, with an active force of between 1.6 and 1.7 million, the drawdown is about 75 percent complete.

    My point – we were at 2.2 milion in the late 80’s and are down to 1.4 million today. Are people really saying we can’t get back to, say 1.6 million without a draft?

    I am surprised. Especially since the Pentagon is totally committed to a volunteer force, and there is no support in Congress or the country for a draft .

    I thought Brett Bellmore was quite cogent in debunking Krugman’s analogy (I may steal that if I trouble to post on this). However, a further flaw in the anaolgy – do we sense a broad public support for either (a) more wars, or (b) a draft?

    Now, have we at various times sensed broad public support for (a) tax cuts), and (b) more government spending? As to (a), remember that Gore in 2000 and Kerry today are promising tax cuts, just not irresponsible Republican style tax cuts. As to (b), don’t answer.

    Deficits are a somewhat inevitable consequence of giving the people what they want. A draft is not.

  13. Oh, I suppose they’d have to match what I’m making now; Enough to cover my mortgage, so I don’t lose the house, and to pay for my arthritis medication.

  14. Patrick (G) says:

    Tom Maguire,
    we were at 2.2 milion in the late 80’s and are down to 1.4 million today. Are people really saying we can’t get back to, say 1.6 million without a draft?

    if you sent all 0.2 (1.6 – 1.4) million new recruits as soldiers to Iraq, you’d still only have 300 thousand soldiers in Iraq, or less than 1.5 U.S. soldier for every hundred Iraqis.

    One big difference between the 1980s and now is that we weren’t fighting a guerilla war in the 1980s, and we are now. It makes recruiting kinda hard.

    Basically, a draft would be Bush’s only/last/best chance for getting enough boots on the ground to stave off defeat, except it’ll be too late by the time he turns to this option.

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  16. calmo says:

    I dunno Brett, the reports I’ve been reading suggest that even if you’re in casts, you could be retained for future combat. Arthritis would not be a problem. The extended tours of duty suggest to me that this over-whelming volunteer army is not as forthcoming as you might like to think. This war on terror is not as popular a cause as you seem to think. I take it that’s a rhetorical assertion –we are losing this war now without conscription and as this becomes hardy to conceal I expect the next president to quit losing. You can’t be serious that the money issue is why BushCo has not opted for conscription. Krugman’s point is Bush lied to us about the deficit and in the same way he lies to us about the draft. Not exactly an analogy, just the same untrustworthy man at the top.

  17. Lyagushka says:

    Brett, you analysis is flawed.
    You mistake an increase in stock values with an increase in government revenues (due to a rise in stock prices). There was an increase in revenue, but that was roughly in line with the increase in employment both as a result of the dot.com bubble, but not significantly influenced by the increase in size in this sector (which was mainly high tech) and the general growth in the US economy. The dot.com bubble was just one factor in many and cannot be singled out as the only reason for an increase in government.

    Also, as both Kurgan and Delong have pointed out repeatedly, there are times when budget deficits are acceptable (depending in large on what projects the government finances). The US has generally had a strong economy (on and off as the rest of the world has suffered) over the last 30-40 years. To just assert that all ‘deficits are wrong’ is misplaced. The problem with this administration is that record deficits have been allied with increased government spending (not least, Iraq). Even Reagan recognised the fallacy of such polices. It does, however, lend weight to Krugman’s claims that this policy in fact hides a more insidious policy of mass privatisation which is NOT being admitted on an open and honest way, but will be presented as a fait accompli to the American people.

    You are correct that fiscal discipline has not been a trade mark of most administrations, but the manner in which Bush has pursued policies that have made this far worse is a historical novelty.

    in any event, as Joseph Stiglitz has shown, much of the ‘economic bubble’ was caused by lax policies in the face of Republican demands and pressures, although these tended towards a regulatory framework, which when failures like Enron occurred, caused a general loss in confidence among investors, thus making the recession worse than it need have been. All countries experience fluctuations in the business cycle, and they have to be managed responsibly as and when they occur. You claim that Krugman’s argument are ‘a crock’ is rather ill informed in this respect. The issue is more complex than you present and I believe if you read Krugman’s writings (other than the NYT op-eds) you will find he has offered a more cogent and detailed explanation that rebuts the claim you make here.

    I also note that this weekend, the Pentagon admitted it had insufficient troops to properly police Iraq and maintain its other commitments- so it hardly discounts the possibility Kurgan presents, especially when you factor the lack of support among ‘allies’ that are distancing themselves from committing their own troops to support such US military actions. I cannot see that changing much if, God forbid, Bush gets elected for a second term. The interim government have already signalled that they might require a US presence for between 10-15 years, which will have a significant drain on military resources. If Bush sees Iran or Syria (possibly both) as his next target in his grand scheme, then the draft will become much more of a possibility. Given the number of reservists that are not seeking to return to the military and the increasing toll of deaths and casualties, it is hardly going to be an advert for more to join of their own volition.

  18. Lyagushka says:

    Brett, you analysis is flawed.
    You mistake an increase in stock values with an increase in government revenues (due to a rise in stock prices). There was an increase in revenue, but that was roughly in line with the increase in employment both as a result of the dot.com bubble, but not significantly influenced by the increase in size in this sector (which was mainly high tech) and the general growth in the US economy. The dot.com bubble was just one factor in many and cannot be singled out as the only reason for an increase in government.

    Also, as both Kurgan and Delong have pointed out repeatedly, there are times when budget deficits are acceptable (depending in large on what projects the government finances). The US has generally had a strong economy (on and off as the rest of the world has suffered) over the last 30-40 years. To just assert that all ‘deficits are wrong’ is misplaced. The problem with this administration is that record deficits have been allied with increased government spending (not least, Iraq). Even Reagan recognised the fallacy of such polices. It does, however, lend weight to Krugman’s claims that this policy in fact hides a more insidious policy of mass privatisation which is NOT being admitted on an open and honest way, but will be presented as a fait accompli to the American people.

    You are correct that fiscal discipline has not been a trade mark of most administrations, but the manner in which Bush has pursued policies that have made this far worse is a historical novelty.

    in any event, as Joseph Stiglitz has shown, much of the ‘economic bubble’ was caused by lax policies in the face of Republican demands and pressures, although these tended towards a regulatory framework, which when failures like Enron occurred, caused a general loss in confidence among investors, thus making the recession worse than it need have been. All countries experience fluctuations in the business cycle, and they have to be managed responsibly as and when they occur. You claim that Krugman’s argument are ‘a crock’ is rather ill informed in this respect. The issue is more complex than you present and I believe if you read Krugman’s writings (other than the NYT op-eds) you will find he has offered a more cogent and detailed explanation that rebuts the claim you make here.

    I also note that this weekend, the Pentagon admitted it had insufficient troops to properly police Iraq and maintain its other commitments- so it hardly discounts the possibility Kurgan presents, especially when you factor the lack of support among ‘allies’ that are distancing themselves from committing their own troops to support such US military actions. I cannot see that changing much if, God forbid, Bush gets elected for a second term. The interim government have already signalled that they might require a US presence for between 10-15 years, which will have a significant drain on military resources. If Bush sees Iran or Syria (possibly both) as his next target in his grand scheme, then the draft will become much more of a possibility. Given the number of reservists that are not seeking to return to the military and the increasing toll of deaths and casualties, it is hardly going to be an advert for more to join of their own volition.

  19. paperwight says:

    Of course, the American mercenary firms could get around this by hiring foreigners.

    They already do. A lot of the mercenaries in Iraq (working for American companies) are Fijian, Indian Gurkhas, South Africans, and Chileans. I’m sure I’m missing some nationalities.

  20. John Nicholson says:

    There’s a pretty unpopular (in the UK) plan for backfilling some US troops with around 600 Brits:
    The perception here is that British forces are peacekeeping down south, while US forces fight a war.

    BBC news:
    ‘Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says Britain will have failed in its duty as an ally if it does not agree to a request from America to relieve US troops in more dangerous areas of Iraq.
    ………
    But most anger was felt on Labour’s backbenches, with Glenda Jackson MP accusing the government of providing “mercenaries for a Republican army”.’

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3751794.stm

    —–

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