Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Draft the Elderly!

Ilya Somin has a mischievous article in today’s Opinion Journal suggesting that if “national service” – the kidnapping of young people for two or three years to serve in the military or perform whatever other tasks (cleaning up national parks and teaching in inner-city schools today, shuffling paperwork in the Department of Commerce tomorrow) Congress demands they do - is so all-fired important for the country, why not conscript the elderly too?

Military service aside, a 65-year old is a far better fit than the young on both the cost and benefit sides for such “service.” The elderly have much more human capital because of their age (offset only partly, probably, by depreciation of human capital due to cognitive deterioration). They will thus be far more productive, if that is the word, in most forms of government service. The opportunity cost of a year doing service is far less for the elderly, who are not even in the labor force, than for an 18-year old, who would otherwise be spending the year making human-capital investments that will yield enormous returns over his entire working life.

So why not write up the laws immediately? Because the elderly vote at much higher rates than the young, making such a proposal political suicide. This suggests “national service” proposals are not about improving our young people or serving the country. They are about getting politically cheap labor to serve politicians’ purposes.



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