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January 26, 2007

Comments

james C

An alternativve explanation could be that those who were eligible for the last year of NS, but obtained a deferral, earned much more than those who did their NS.

James Hamilton

National Service won't return, compulsory national community service is a stupid idea.

Why does it all have to be so complicated? I'd just make every able-bodied teenager serve two years in the armed forces before work or college. Teach them discipline, cut crime, and no need either for a new scheme or to turn back the clock.

dsquared

James, the point of the study that Chris linked is that it would also waste two years of their life when they could be earning a wage and doing something useful, and that this apparently has long term consequences for the overall standard of living.

If we're going to have compulsory service, then the armed forces is the *worst* place to have it from an economic point of view. The best case for the army is that they produce nothing but consume wages that have to be provided by taxation. The more common case is that they destroy a lot of valuable things.

(I need to write something one day about my economic definition of an army as a logistics operation that specialises in building expensive capital goods, delivering them at great expense to people who don't want them and then blowing them up).

James

Will that be before or after the next part of your Freakonomics review?

James Hamilton

Daniel, could I really have been more blatantly tongue in cheek? And is it worth my while pointing it out, when I could be doing something useful and creating favourable long-term consequences for the overall standard of living?

Andrew Zalotocky

The armed forces would be certain to oppose any re-introduction of military National Service. The experience in both the UK and the US has been that an all-volunteer army is more effective. Volunteers are more motivated and stay for longer, gaining more experience and training to a higher level. Plus, the armed forces can be more selective about who they accept.

With National Service you'd either have to waste a fortune on training and equipping thousands of resentful conscripts to the same level as the volunteers only for them to leave at the first opportunity, or lower the standards across the whole army.

But it is also a question of liberty. What right does the state have to take over the lives of young adults for a period of years? At one time it could be argued that military conscription was vital for the defence of the nation. That is no longer the case, and the argument certainly can't be applied to civil National Service. Any such proposal should be opposed because it is treating young people as the property of the state.

Sam


I think if you asked any random sample of Army officers, they'd claim that that was the worst possible thing you could do to the Army. In two years, you can just about train someone to be useful to the Army. Then they'll all leave, because their time is up.

You end up with an incredibly expensive way of fiddling the youth unemployment figures, and nothing else.


If there is a need for "community service", I am tempted to cast my eye at the long-term unemployed and kill two birds with one stone.

Planeshift

"Some half-wits want to introduce compulsory national community service. If history's any guide, this will prove far more expensive that it looks."

Not really.

You explain that national military service cost the men who did it lost earnings because they got less work experience as a result of being in the army. But being in the army itself counts as work experience and provides transferable skills (depending on which bit of the army you are in).

Secondly national community service isn't the same thing as military service. Some of it would presumably involve working for charities and the voluntary sector. Any careers advisor in the country will tell you that the best way for a young person with no work experience to get some is to do voluntary work. Indeed if you want to work in some careers the only way in is to start by doing unpaid work. Even in the top graduate roles many employers will prefer candidates who have learned skills from doing voluntary work. Introducing national community service - particularly for the unskilled youths who have never had a job - (perhaps in exchange for citizens basic income) would seem to me an excellent policy. The people involved increase their employability, the voluntary sector gets an increase in resources, we thus tackle several social problems at a stroke.

The world of 2007 is completely different from the 1950s. In the 1950s you had apprenticeships and a big manufacturing sector, plus britain was emerging from war-time rationing in an economy run on keynesian principles. Can we really draw the conclusions you draw about the wisdom of introducing national commity service in 2007 based upon the experiences of 1950s squaddies?

Sam

But being in the army itself counts as work experience and provides transferable skills (depending on which bit of the army you are in).

But having conscripts in the army for two years and then leaving doesn't actually do the army any good. We have long since passed the days when all the training a soldier needed was to be told which end of his rifle goes forwards, and which muddy ditch to go and stand in.

So all your training, transferrable skills and so on are being provided, for free, by the Army, which gains no benefit from your presence there. This soounds almost like the dictionary definition of "very expensive" to me.


Secondly national community service isn't the same thing as military service. Some of it would presumably involve working for charities and the voluntary sector. Any careers advisor in the country will tell you that the best way for a young person with no work experience to get some is to do voluntary work.

Mostly, this is a signalling effect. Oh, there are a few people that learn new useful skills through voluntary work, but mostly, when an employer sees a pair of school-leavers with no work experience, the one who spent Saturdays volunteering with a charity is going to get the job, because he has demonstrated his willingness to get of his arse and do something. Make it compulsory, and this signalling effect goes away. The best our school leaver will be able to day then is "I turned up for school", whch provides only very weak signalling.

Can we really draw the conclusions you draw about the wisdom of introducing national commity service in 2007 based upon the experiences of 1950s squaddies?

No, but we might start with logic and sound economics. We might also point out that saying "oh well, things are different now" isn't actually an argument. You need to explain, in detail, why things will be different.

You might also want to consider that a national community service scheme that incorporates everybody is not at all the same thing as a workfare type scheme that requires the young unemployed to engage in community work in order to receive benefits.

Planeshift

Oh I agree that a conscript army isn't very good from the point of view of an effective army, I was merely disagreeing with the idea that it didn't provide any experience for the people who went through it.

I think you also badly under-estimate the skills one can learn through voluntary work - it does of course depend on what type of voluntary work one does, but it does more than provide a signalling effect if genuine skills are learnt. I also had thought it wouldn't be necessary to write a detailed dissertation on why the 1950s are different to 2007.

As to whether we should make it compulsary, that is a different matter - but I wouldn't call the idea half-witted, there are lots of ways it could be implemented -some good, some bad.

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