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Lanny Arvan

Suppose one dropped the "universal" in the title and went from a compulsory system to an incentive based and hence voluntary system where, for example, High School grads could earn tuition credits for College as well as some minimal income to cover room and board costs, while College Grads would receive some forgiveness on loans they incurred from paying tuition and again some minimal income to cover their living expenses. Presumably that would eliminate both the ethical and Constitutional objections raised by various previous commentators. This would change the question to whether there is an incentive level that on the one hand would elicit sufficient participation and on the other hand justify the tax that would be needed to finance the incentives.
It seems to me that the cost-benefit analysis in Prof. Posner's original post is better aimed at addressing that question, which is why it would be good to determine, if indeed that is possible from a priori calculation, whether a voluntary system would be feasible and productive.


"Their lost wages in their first job would be a rough estimate of the value of their work in that job. The starting salary for college graduates is more than $40,000"

Hi. Is this supposed to give an indication of the cost of doing universal service? If so why isn't the cost cumulative? The year out of work has the direct result of you not being paid, but your promotion may come a year later.

Stephen Carter

Several of the commentators have suggested that the current military comprises largely people from the worst off sectors of society. No data support this contention. It is true that the children of the best off tend not to serve, but the same is true for the children of the worst off. Educational and aptitude testing requirements limit military service considerably. Although I do not have the data ready to hand, I have taught this material for years in my courses on just and unjust wars.

Incidentally, an argument for compulsory military service not mentioned by the main post or by the commentators is hinted at by Samuel Huntington, in his book, The Soldier and the State. His worry is the cost to democracy in allowing the development of a distinct military culture.


I don't really think that it COULD be instituted nowadays. 18 to 25 year-olds are the most independent minded among us and the vast majority of them wouldn't be willing to serve a shitty country that very well might send them off to die for the elite's oil revenue. They would likely just refuse en masse and say "What are you going to do about it? Arrest us all?" and the whole idea would collapse under its own weight. 18 to 25 year-olds by and large have a VERY healthy skepticism of the U.S. government and are the least likely to blindly accept myths, for example the 9/11 official myth, as they have the least amount psychologically invested in America. It's a lot easier to call something out as being a piece of shit when you haven't spent your whole adult life with a (false but more comforting) belief system.

St. Darwin Assisi's cat

Judge Posner...please do not allow person's without proper identification to vote in Indiana or anywhere else ... when younger I thought it awful that Judge Rehnquist didn't think people who could not read should vote ... after 9/11 I think reading, writing, and identification are necssary to participate in the US voting process. Thank you. PS I loved your comments about people impersonating voters....


Judge Posner pegs the cost of a Universal National Service program at approx. $100 million. I think that is a gross cost, but many of the youths would be substitutes for other workers currently providing services - for instance, reading the Xray machines at airports in lieu of more expensive TSA personnel.

Thus, I think the net cash cost would be much less. One would have to think about the severance / unemployment cost for the replaced civil servants to fully analyze the cost.

I support a UNS concept. I think it would dramatically reduce the propensity to go to war and thus save billions, as well it would eliminate race and class bias in military service, and would foster self-discipline and civic duty. Also, at 18, most kids would LOVE to have a year working as long as it didn't penalize their career or educational opportunities. They would gain some spending money, and it would enable them either to afford more education or to begin saving for the future.

I read Prof Becker's post but I think his approach is way too complicated for the public to embrace.

Doug G

We should conscript them all to work so that we can stop losing billions to teenage laziness.

Eisenhower Republican

It's sort of interesting that no mention of civilian control of the military is made, nor, to use a language that is more comprehensible to ideologues and economites, of the support that goes to the rent seeking military industrial complex when the general populace is uninvolved with their own wars. The idea that compulsory service is an idea that sounds in the democratic party is rhetorically useful, but simply stupid.


I think that a national service program would be an excellent idea, except that the size and the cost of such a program might prove overwhelming.

Only the most selfish persons would argue that the idea lacks merit. Spending one year of one's youth performing public service and learning about the world would be educational and rewarding for everyone, rich and poor alike. It would also help give all Americans a shared identity and would strengthen our democracy by encouraging wider social and political participation. In retrospect, I wish that I had done a year of public service when I was young -- or that I had even considered the option. The pressures I felt were to attend college immediately and to continue down the career path as quickly as possible. The idea of service was not encouraged.

The tough questions involve how to organize and pay for a program of that scale. Those are difficult questions. Even when we had wartime drafts, not everyone was drafted. No women were drafted (that's half the population), and even men were subject to a lottery. The draft was a small program by comparison.

Maybe the cost issue makes this idea a non-starter. Perhaps a better idea is to encourage high schools, colleges, universities, employers, etc., to sponsor a wide range of public service work for young adults. Perhaps federal, state, and local governments can subsidize such programs, instead of run them. Government can certainly use its bully pulpit to enocurage service.

Our country should strive to establish shared values of community, charity, and public service. We can certainly do more than we do now.


There is an accepted term for someone forced to work for others against his will: a slave. There is also a term for someone forced to fight against his will: a gladiator.
The same people who want to re-introduce slaves and gladiators into our society would probably denounce our ancestors doing the same.
All this blabbering about 'community', 'values' and other empty words is about the same old goal at the end - enslave others to make yourself happy. And of course if you don't want to be a slave you must be selfish...
If you want to help others or fight for your country with no compensation, kudos to you. Just don't force me to do the same.


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