Monday, February 14, 2005

hawking on the corner

Down on the corner, Jonah complains about the hypocritical lefties that dare to suggest that those who support the war should volunteer. When he wrote
No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

he left out his most compelling reasons. He now asks where all the lefties lined up for Afghanistan, then goes on to write
Look, in the age of the all-volunteer military, and in a country which prides itself on civilian control of that military, there is no shame in not signing up. Or even if there is shame, it's personal not political. We have, by my rough estimate, some 70 million men of military age. Should they all join-up the moment they agree the military should do something dangerous? I favor aggressive law enforcement at home, does this mean I should become a cop? Of course not.

I'm sure it's possible to engage in more self-serving, delusional sophistry, but most people would have to work at it.

In the age of an all-volunteer army, only those who volunteer are ever at risk for being sent to war. This makes support for war cheap. It's easy to say a price is worth paying when it's paid by someone else. When we had a draft, supporting a war carried a risk. Now it carries none. To Jonah, this somehow makes supporting the war without actually volunteering more acceptable. I think that's backwards.

The question isn't, as he puts it, 70 million men (apparently women of military age aren't worthy of service) should sign-up, but whether they should volunteer to do so. The military couldn't and wouldn't accept all 70 million into service. The department of defense only employs 1.4M people. That's less than 2% of the population of military age (unlike Jonah, I include women in the tally...the last time I looked, they were part of the force). Even if everyone volunteered, they wouldn't all be needed or accepted. One needn't be a soldier to support the war, but those who support it should accept the risk. Half of our citizens support the war, but of the 100M or so of military age, only 1.4M support it enough to put their own lives on the line. It's always easier to risk someone else's life.

He asks why lefties weren't lining up to fight in Afghanistan, a war they supported. Perhaps more should have done so, but it was also a very different war, one fought by proxy, using a small number of highly trained special forces. I doubt that many who joined after 9/11 made it to Afghanistan during the war. We'll never know whether lefties would have volunteered for a more protracted struggle in Afghanistan, because we didn't have one.

Iraq is a bit different. We've been there a while. It looks like we'll stay a while longer. Our presence is severly stressing the military. Recruiting is becoming a challenge. In Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, the military needs people. But even though the public approves of the war when polled, less than 2% of those of military age have volunteered. The cause is important enough for other people to die for, but typically not important enough for people to put themselves at risk.

Jonah writes that there is no shame in that, no shame in requiring someone else to risk their lives for you in a cause where you would not risk your own, and that if there is any shame, it is a private matter not a political one. He's simply wrong. Military service in time of war is not merely a job. Those who promote wars bear responsibility for those who suffer and die. Those who promote wars in which they themselves are unwilling to fight should be ashamed, and it is hard for me to take seriously those who lack the conscience even to recognize that.

Perhaps he has to argue that. To argue otherwise would be to argue that those who would not volunteer should oppose the war. It that view became widely accepted, how long could we sustain the war? If everyone went home tonight and asked themselves whether they would risk their own lives in this fight, and those who answered no began campaigning for its end, how long would it last?

Oddly enough, it turns out that those 35 and older aren't eligible for enlistment. In Jonah's case, merely standing on that might beg the question of why he didn't volunteer earlier, but it's a pretty good reason for not volunteering today. What he's written since only makes him look incapable of clear moral thought.

There's a question I haven't heard discussed much. It seems pretty clear that those who support the war have some moral obligation to volunteer, but what about those who oppose the war, does opposition to the war remove that obligation? It doesn't seem to me that it does. People are still dying, and they're still doing it in our stead. It seems clear that passive opposition isn't enough. On the other hand, it seems clear that someone who spends every waking moment seeking a way to end the war has met their moral obligation. I'm not capable of drawing a clear line between those two points.

In any case, I'm in no position to judge. I'm 45. I never faced that choice.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

dollars backed by pyramids

Brad Delong writes that only the "substantial decline in the stock market in the near future" scenario is likely. By near future, of course, he must mean "before private accounts start to invest," because if it were to happen after that point, private accounts would take the loss rather than receiving the gain.

One problem with that hypothesis is that the stock market is the expectation of funds from private accounts is likely to push the market up, not down. If we give the market a fresh source of investment to chase shares, it's likely to push prices up and help sustain them, at least until retirees begin to pull as much money out of the stock market as they're putting in.

Isn't there a technical term for investments supported by new investors rather than underlying financial strength? If we should worry about the effects on a bond-supported portfolio (the Social Security Trust Fund) when cash flow turns negative, shouldn't we be more worried about the effect of the same cash flow reversal when the assets in the portfolio are set by the market?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

asking questions

A week ago, I asked whether the election in Iraq had changed anything, and then went on to wonder about the fact that none of the usual suspects thought the question worth asking. Matt is now asking (taking his lead from Knight-Ridder. Now that it's safe and the Republicans have had their moment of blue-fingered solidarity, maybe more will do so (apologies in advance for those who have when I wasn't watching).

Monday, February 07, 2005

same-sex marriage, polygamy, and incest

Over at Balkinization, Professor Balkin writes about the legal theories under which same-sex marriage could be declared legal. One of the theories is
The ban on same sex marriage violates a fundamental due process right to marry.

He calls this theory weak because of the difficulty in establishing a compelling state interest that allows same-sez marriage but disallows even more controversial practices such as polygamy and incest. This strikes me as a potentially strong political argument for finding a different legal basis, but a remarkably weak legal argument. If the arguments against legal polygamy and incest are indeed so weak that they aren't compelling, why should they be banned? If the arguments are grounded in mere prejudice and "tradition," shouldn't they be legal? Shouldn't the presumption in a free society be that conduct of free individuals should not be limited without good reason?

Suppose the right to same-sex marriage were affirmed on the basis of a fundamental right to marry, and suppose against all expectation that such a ruling were affirmed by the US Supreme Court to be the law of the land. According to the statistical abstract of the US, there are 925,000 working lawyers and judges in this country, and many more legal amateurs who'd be interested in making sure that polygamy and incest don't become legal. If none of them could find a compelling legal basis for the bans, what does that say about the reasons such practices are banned?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

a future without allies

From the first paragraph of a New Yorker story on the US Marine rescue mission to Sumatra
Sea Power 21, the Navy’s broad plan to respond to the post-9/11 era of small wars and uncertain alliances, is a military policy for a day when America might find itself without allies.

I suppose I should find it reassuring that an Administration that seems bent on alienating allies is planning for the day when we have none left, but the notion that our nation's defense might leave us without allies in the near or distant future, that such a path could possibly make us safe, is deeply and profoundly foolish. The fact that the Administration is making detailed plans for the results of its own foolishness only strengthens my impression that we have many dark years ahead of us.