Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Galbraith and Friedman on the Draft

Economist David Henderson has a piece in today's Wall Street Journal on John Kenneth Galbraith's contributions to economics. It concludes with a nice reminder that economists of Galbraith's generation played a role in ending in the draft:
Galbraith was also one of the chief price controllers during World War II, as head of the price section of the government's Office of Price Administration. Unlike other economists involved with price controls, such as George Shultz during the Nixon administration and Frank Taussig during the Wilson administration, Galbraith emerged as an advocate of permanent price controls, an unpopular position among economists.

But there is one price control that John Kenneth Galbraith joined Milton Friedman in opposing in the 1960s: military conscription. He wrote, "The draft survives principally as a device by which we use compulsion to get young men to serve at less than the market rate of pay."
Milton Friedman once said, "In the realm of policy, I regard eliminating the draft as my most important accomplishment." And he did have a very direct role in ending it, as a member of the President's Commission on an All-Volunteer Force. Here is a story about Friedman and General William Westmoreland, who was then commander of U.S. troops in Vietnam.

In his testimony before the commission, Mr. Westmoreland said he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Mr. Friedman interrupted, "General, would you rather command an army of slaves?" Mr. Westmoreland replied, "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves." Mr. Friedman then retorted, "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher."

So, ec 10 students, in this time of war, you have to thank this older generation of economists for their role in ensuring your freedom.