30 May 2012

Veterans: The Draft and Gratitude

Stephen Kershnar
Memorial Day: Conscription and Disgust
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 29, 2012

As I watched the Memorial Day services, I wondered how many of the people being honored were drafted into service. This then led me to consider how a free country could stomach such immoral-and-illegal drafts and then celebrate the liberty-trampling Presidents who put them in place.

The wartime draft has been apart of many of America’s wars. It was in place during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. It speaks volumes about U.S. leadership that at least three of the wars were discretionary with a distant relation to American interests. It is no coincidence that the recent wartime drafts were put in place or maintained by leftist Presidents (Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) who had little respect for the Constitution and historical American liberties. On a side note, Nixon’s aggressive expansion of the government into new areas and wage-and-price controls qualify him as a leftist. At least two (for example, Wilson and Roosevelt) ran on anti-war platforms and then took actions that they knew broke the spirit of their promises and made it much more likely that the U.S. would join the wars. That we should celebrate these men on Presidents’ Day is a sad statement about how we can paper over liars and serfdom.

During Vietnam, the threat of being drafted was used to coerce young men into volunteering for the military. On one defense-recruiting study found that in 1970, 50% of the volunteers did so to avoid being drafted. On another estimate of the Vietnam War, the possibility of avoiding combat led as many as 4 out of 11 million eligible men to enlist. A previous head of the Selective Service System (Gen. Hershey) estimated that during the Cold War, for every man drafted three or four were scared into volunteering. During World War II, more than 11 million men were inducted.

It is a little hard to see why men drafted into serving the military or forced to do so by the threat of a draft should be celebrated on Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Consider someone who is physically forced to give up a kidney for some randomly selected citizen. We might owe them serious compensation, a sincere apology, and a promise not to do this sort of thing again, but it is a little hard to see why we (or even the kidney recipient) should be grateful. After all, the kidney donor didn’t choose to do anything for the recipient, rather it was done to him. To the extent that the draft forces people to fight against their will, and perhaps the draft didn’t always do so, draftees and other coerced soldiers are similar to the kidney donor. The fact that the kidney donor might later be proud of what he did and that others want to cheer him on still does not establish that citizens should be grateful to him. We normally think that an individual who voluntary gave his time or money is owed gratitude by a beneficiary, but people forced by guns or jail didn’t voluntarily give to others.

The draft is morally repugnant. First, it tramples on liberty. Forcing men to serve in the military is like forcing them to serve in some planter’s cotton field. It is form of forced labor, although it is orders of magnitude less harsh and wrong than the chattel slavery that characterized America’s past.

Second, the draft is inefficient. The U.S. can always fill its recruiting ranks by paying market wages to induce people to join. A draft does not make the military cost less; it just transfers the cost from taxpayers, who would normally have to pay market wages, to the young drafted men who have to pay the cost of soldiering without being paid a fair wage. This is no different than the government confiscating lands for public schools without payment rather than buying out the owners. When people do not bear the costs of their decisions, they are likely to act in an inefficient manner.

The various deferments and exemptions (for example, for marriage and family, War industry work, and teaching) further direct people into areas that they prefer not to be in and does not put them to the most efficient use (as determined by the free market).

Given that a draft was in place, the one draft mechanism that was efficient was allowing Civil War draftees to buy out of fighting by paying for a substitute or commutation. Purchasing a substitute benefits both the draftee and his willing substitute. Of course, this sensible policy was discontinued as part of the usual envy of the rich.

Third, the draft is riddled with unfairness as the government has to decide who are expendable. For example, during the Kennedy administration, married men with children were put at the bottom of the call-up list and married men with wives but no children second to the bottom. The administration apparently thought single men more expendable. The same sense of expendability led local draft boards during World War I to more often conscript poor men. During that war, some religions were allowed conscientious objectors (for example, Amish and Quakers), others were not. Non-religious objectors were also not recognized. Apparently, the poor and people of some religions were more expendable.

Fourth, wartime drafts, especially ones with the many deferments and exemptions for the upper classes, allow politicians to shift the costs of the war toward smaller and more vulnerable subclasses: young men and the poor. This makes discretionary wars more likely. Presidents such as Wilson, Truman, and Johnson might have been less likely to plunge the U.S. into war if they had to jack up taxes to pay for their international adventures.

One argument given for the draft by people like Vietnam General William Westmoreland is that without it the U.S. would have an army of mercenaries. Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman responded that it was better to have a mercenary army than a slave force. He further responded that if being paid makes someone a mercenary, then our doctors, lawyers, and professors are mercenaries.

A second argument for the draft given by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY and corrupt) is that a draft should be reinstated because it would spread military service equally between the rich and poor. It is a little hard to see why this would benefit the poor when it involves paying poor drafted men less to do a job than what they find acceptable. Also, many opportunities are not equally distributed in our society between the rich and poor (for example, line jobs in factories) and this is not a bad thing. It is troubling that Congressmen in addition to Rangel (for example, John Conyers D-MI and John Lewis D-GA) should be willing to sponsor the draft on the basis of such a half-baked argument.

Wartime drafts are an unappreciated evil in the U.S.’s history. It should blacken the reputation of the Presidents who imposed them and undermine our gratitude toward any veterans who were forced to fight against their will.

24 May 2012

Justice in the Family: Choice vs. Fairness

Stephen Kershnar
Justice in the Family
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 15, 2012

            Recently a furor developed when Hilary Rosen, Democratic strategist and close ally to Obama (35 visits to the White House), stated that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, never worked. Specifically, she said, “His wife has actually never worked a day in her life.” Rosen was trying to get across the notion that Ann Romney (mother of five) never dealt with the types of issues that the majority of women in the U.S. face today, such as how to feed her their kids, get them to school, and so on.
Let us assume that Rosen was wrong about what “work” means and ask whether justice or morality has anything to say about how duties in a marriage should be divided. For example, we might ask how much childcare, cooking, and vacuuming each spouse should do. We also might ask whether there is a number of times that one spouse (for example, wife) should be willing to have sex with the other (for example, husband) when the two have different preferences.  

In the U.S., work is equally distributed when it comes to couples with children under 18. CBS News, using a 2010 Bureau of Labor study, reports that women with full-time jobs and kids under the age of 6 total an average of 56 hours of combined housework and paid work. Men average 57 hours. Similarly, Ruth Davis Konigsberg writing in Time Magazine, and using the same study, reports that for those who had children under the age of 18, women employed full time did just 20 minutes more of combined paid and unpaid work than men did. The distribution was different with women doing more housework and men doing more at the office.

Surprisingly, Konigsberg, using data from the Families and Work Institute, further reports that men have a harder time managing the responsibilities of work and family than do women (60% of men report having a hard time doing so versus 47% of women). On the other hand, a study by University of Southern California psychologist Darby Saxbe and others writing in Journal of Family Psychology found that more men than women engaged in leisure activity after work (19% to 11%) and men spent more time on leisure than housework.

There are two opposing philosophical positions on the relation between justice (or fairness) and domestic work (for example, housework and childcare). One theory holds that justice doesn’t apply to the family and that whatever both spouses agree to is just. This might rest on the notion that justice is a matter of what rights people have and what rights they have depends on what they’ve agreed to. This is what makes it fair for some couples to have a traditional marriage (the husband works outside the home and the wife does the housework and childcare) and others to have an egalitarian one (both spouses work outside the home and do the same amount of housework).

Alternatively, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel of University argues that justice doesn’t apply to the family because families are based on love and affection rather than assignments of rights and duties. On this view, applying the logic of markets and the legal system to marriage would worsen the family by introducing an alien value system. For example, if mothers were to charge for each hug they give their children, this would worsen family life.
The problem with this theory is that it doesn’t align with our thoughts. Many spouses feel that it is unfair for one person (for example, the wife) to do most of the household chores even when if this is what they initially agreed to do. For example, if the wife is cooking and cleaning all Sunday, while her husband drinks beer and watches football, there is bound to be resentment.

Also, it is odd to think that the distribution of benefits and burdens outside the home should be just, fair, or equal, but that these same considerations don’t apply just because spouses enter the home or love each other. We don’t think this about demands for respect or against violence and so it seems that other moral demands should apply in the home. For example, if we think that some people (for example, miners and daycare workers) get paid too little relative to corporate executives given how hard the former work or what they contribute, then a similar thing should be true when one spouse does the lion’s share of domestic work.  

A second theory holds that justice and fairness apply to the family. Proponents of egalitarian marriage hold that even if both the husband and wife agree to an unequal distribution of domestic duties, such an arrangement is unfair and disrespectful toward the spouse who carries the load (usually, women). Feminists such as the late Stanford philosopher Susan Moller Okin often promote this view. They argue that even if she agreed to it, a wife who sacrifices her career and leisure time to act as a maid for her husband and nanny for her children profoundly disrespects her own abilities and emotions. Similarly, a husband who asks this of her similarly disrespects her.  

One problem with this view is that the notion of an equal marriage is hard to fill out. It is unclear whether the feminists who argue for this think that equality should be filled out in terms of the husband and wife being equally happy, equally well-paid, equally respected, or equal in some other way. The other way might involve equal amounts of contribution, hard work, or sacrifice. Without some theory explaining how equality in a marriage should be filled out, this view is not much more than a bumper sticker. To see the problem, consider little an egalitarian-marriage proponent would have to say about the happy middle ground when a husband wants to more sex and his wife less.    

A second problem is that it is implausible that there is one type of equality that a couple should aim for, regardless of what type of equality they want or whether they want equality at all. Even if there were one type of equality couples should aim for, it is unclear why it is important in comparison to other considerations, such as the family’s aggregate happiness. This takes both parents and children into consideration. That is, it is irrational to try to make spouses equally happy rather than trying to make the overall family as happy as possible.

A third problem is that if one spouse finds herself much happier married to one person than to others or to being unmarried, then it is irrational to care about how her happiness is relative to her spouse. Equality is valuable when it improves one’s life; it is not valuable in itself. This type of fanatical commitment to equality explains why feminists are now marginalized.  

In the end, the more plausible view is that justice and fairness depend on that to which a married couple agreed. The agreement might focus on equality, maximizing the family’s overall happiness, or some other goal (perhaps religious or altruistic). There is no one pattern a marriage must satisfy. The focus on equality is too vague to be useful and, in any case, nothing more than a personal preference. 

02 May 2012

Academia: Against Subsidizing Student Loans

Stephen Kershnar
A College Education is a Good Investment
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 29, 2012

As usual, Republicans and Democrats are fighting over welfare, this time it’s subsidized student loans. Subsidized student loans are scheduled to rise in July from 3.4% to 6.8%. As The New York Times points out, even the higher rate (6.8%) is lower than the rate on most private student loans. The Republicans propose paying the $5.9 billion in subsidies, which covers both federally guaranteed loans from banks and government loans, through spending cuts; the Democrats propose paying for it by raising taxes. No one is pointing out that student loans are such a wise investment that the government should stop subsidizing it altogether.

There have been horror stories regarding recent college graduates. Manuel Valdes et al. writing for the Associated Press reports that roughly 54% of Bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed (employed at a job that does not require a college degree). College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history, and humanities are among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level. Those who majored in nursing, teaching, accounting, or computer science are the most likely to do so.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the recent college graduates are a relatively small amount of people (1.5 million out of the more than 300 million in the U.S.). Also, the loans are not that high and plenty of graduates do not have any. According to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the average 2010 college graduate who had student loans owed roughly $25,000 and roughly 45% of graduates had no debt (the latter is a 2009-2010 figure).

Even with these horror stories, a college education is an incredibly good investment. Consider 2011 study by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Brookings Institute. On average, the total cost of a four-year college degree (private and public) is $102,000. This cost consists of roughly $48,000 in out-of-pocket expenses and $54,000 in lost wages. On average, four-year college graduates (college graduate) earn roughly $570,000 more than people with only a high school diploma (high school graduates), an excellent return on a $102,000 investment.

According to Greenstone and Looney, the rate of return is more than double the average return on stocks over the last 60 years and multiple times the rate of return on investments in corporate bonds, gold, long-term government bonds, or housing over this same period.

At age 22, the average college graduate earns 70% more than the average high school graduate. In 2010 at age 50, the former made $47,000 more per year. At the peak of her earning power, a high school graduate makes about what a college graduate makes after one year out of school. College graduates also earn much more than those with only an Associate’s Degree (roughly $400,000 more over a lifetime). In March of 2012, college graduates had an unemployment rate roughly half of high school graduates (4.2% versus 8%). College graduates are also far more likely to be working than high school graduates (73% versus 54% last month). College also has many long-term non-financial benefits.

Economists Philip Oreopoulos and Kjell Salvanes found that college graduates are healthier, live longer, and have higher job satisfaction than high school graduates. They found the former make better decisions about marriage and parenting. Also, on some widely held philosophical theories, knowledge alone makes people’s lives go better.

Given that the rate of return on investing in college is much better than other investments (for example, stocks, bonds, housing, and gold over the past 60 years), it is hard to see why the government should subsidize it. After all, the investment typically pays for itself many times over.

One reason often given is that education has a positive externality. That is, people other than the college graduate and the college that educated him benefit from his education. Other people might benefit because the college graduate creates more wealth, has better health, is a more informed voter, or pays more taxes. Still, without a reasonable estimate of the amount of the positive externality, it is hard to know whether it warrants a subsidy and, if so, how much.

What’s more, the subsidy has a bunch of wasteful effects. It encourages many people to go to college who shouldn’t because they can’t or won’t do the work. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, David Wessel and Stephanie Banchero point out, that at four year college 43% of those enrolled as freshmen in 2002 didn’t finish their degree six years later. Along the same lines, only 30% of American adults have four-year college degrees. This is true even though roughly 70% of high-school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year college.

It also encourages many people to choose majors that don’t benefit society as much as other majors. Evidence that a major benefits society less when it typically has greater unemployment or pays less. Both are evidence that the major has less value to consumers. For example, those with a degree in counseling psychology earn a lot less than those with math or computer science degrees ($69,000 less in 2010) and thus likely contribute less to people’s well-being.

There is also strong reason to believe that the proliferation of student grants and loans (that is, student welfare) has fueled much of the explosion in college costs over the last few decades.

At the very least, we need a plausible argument that the benefits of government-subsidized student loans outweigh their costs. I am unaware of any.

There is a concern that the difference in performance between four-year college graduates and high school or two-year college graduates is explained by a third factor, perhaps intelligence (with a significant genetic effects), rather than education itself. This might be suggested by a study of elite universities. A 1998 study by Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger of the Mellon Foundation and Princeton University respectively found that on average once you control for student ability, attending an elite university (for example, the Ivy League) did not increase a student’s income. Students at elite universities made a lot more money but this was likely the result of their greater ability rather than the school.

Still, there is likely a difference between getting a college degree and not doing so even if there isn’t a difference between attending an elite university and not doing so. If college doesn’t make students more productive, then the state shouldn’t subsidize it.

In summary, a college education is such a good investment that the state probably should not subsidize it. The rate of return is better than the stock, bond, and real estate market over the last 60 years and, also, provides other valuable benefits. The arguments from externalities and a third factor do not show otherwise.