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America's jobs crisis: Is reviving the draft the answer?
A New York Times writer sparks controversy by proposing an 18-month national service requirement that would put every young American to work
 
A New York Times writer proposes a co-ed draft that would put all young adults to work for 18 months, a plan that could easily be labeled "communist" by conservative critics.
A New York Times writer proposes a co-ed draft that would put all young adults to work for 18 months, a plan that could easily be labeled "communist" by conservative critics.
K.J. Historical/CORBIS

Ever since the U.S. ended the military draft at the Vietnam War's conclusion, Americans have debated whether we ought to reinstate it. This week, Thomas Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times military writer, reinvigorated the conversation with an article proposing that all American men and women between 18 and 25 serve for 18 months, either in the military (where they would perform entry-level tasks and save the government money on outsourcing contracts) or in a civilian service program. In both cases, draftees would receive "low pay but excellent post-service benefits." Such a move, Ricks argues, would not only strengthen the military but create a cheap pool of government labor to teach, clean up parks, help the elderly, and perform other essential but low-paying duties. Anyone who would rather not serve at all could opt out, provided he or she pledge not to ask for government services such as Medicare or subsidized college loans down the road. Is Ricks onto something?

Yes. It might be time to revive the draft: Ricks' proposal "is worth a serious look," says Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones, even if putting "lazy America" to work this way is "likely to be called communist by conservatives." The plan has something for everyone. Tea Partiers should love the way it saves money by having young conscripts paint barracks and drive generals around for "cruddy pay" instead of having high-priced contractors do it. War resisters can do civilian work, and libertarians can make a statement by doing none of the above. Everybody's happy!
"3 ways lazy America could bring back the draft"

This won't solve the jobs crisis... or anything else: This national service plan "is simply unworkable and unaffordable," says Max Boot at Commentary. Ricks proposes giving both military and non-military conscripts free college tuition as a reward, but we can't afford that when "entitlements are already bankrupting us." Besides, a draft is supposed to discourage foolish wars by making all Americans bear "the risk of combat." This proposal still leaves the actual fighting to professional volunteers.
"Why the draft won't work"

And slavery is not better than unemployment: The framers of the Constitution might have given Congress authority to draft citizens into an army, says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. But the 13th Amendment plainly states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime," is permissible in the United States. Imposing an unconstitutional system of forced labor is not the way to tackle unemployment. Besides, who wants the next Steve Jobs wasting 18 months painting barracks?
"Why new calls for military conscription and a national service draft make neither moral nor economic sense"

 

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