"In the course of his [General Westmoreland's] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, 'General, would you rather command an army of slaves?' He drew himself up and said, 'I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.' I replied, 'I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.' But I went on to say, 'If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.' That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries."
- Milton and Rose Friedman, Two
Lucky People, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 380.
In May 1970, a few days after graduating from
the University of Winnipeg with a major in mathematics, I flew to Chicago to
look into getting a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago. While there,
I went to visit Milton Friedman and he invited me into his office. I had a sense
that he had been through this routine before – talking to an idealistic young
person showing up and wanting an autograph on his copy of Capitalism
and Freedom and, beyond that, simply wanting to meet and talk to him.
But he didn't treat our meeting as routine; we had a real talk for about 10
minutes. When I told him that I'd initially been attracted to libertarianism
by reading Ayn Rand, he told me that while Rand was well worth reading, there
were many other people worth reading too, and I shouldn't get stuck on her.
He also stated, "Make politics an avocation, not a vocation." Both
were good pieces of advice.
The advice didn't stop there. I ended up getting my Ph.D. at UCLA and going
to my first academic job as an assistant professor at the University of Rochester's
Graduate School of Management. From then on, I wrote Milton a couple of times
a year and he always wrote back, sometimes writing in the margins of my letter
to comment on my questions and thoughts. When I contemplated my first major
career change – leaving academia to work at a think tank – he advised me strongly
against it (I didn't take this advice), referring to himself as my "Dutch
uncle." I had never heard the term before and didn't bother to look
it up until writing this piece, but I understood what he meant from the context:
a Dutch uncle is someone who gives you tough love, holding you to high standards
because of a benevolent regard for your well-being.
But here's the bigger point: with his steady and passionate work to end the
military draft, Milton Friedman was the Dutch uncle of every young man in the
United States. Or even better, he was like a favorite uncle that they'd never
even met. He cared more for them than any president, any general, or any defense
secretary has ever cared. How so? Because he wanted every young man to be free
to choose whether to join the military or not.
Milton Friedman's work against the draft began in December 1966, when he gave
a presentation at a four-day conference at the University of Chicago. Various
prominent and less-prominent academics, politicians, and activists had been
invited. Papers had been commissioned, and the authors gave summaries, after
which the discussion was open to all. Fortunately, the discussion was transcribed.
The papers and discussions appear in a book edited by sociologist Sol Tax and
titled The Draft: A Handbook of Facts and Alternatives. The invitees
included two young anti-draft congressmen, Robert Kastenmeier (D-Wisc.) and
Donald Rumsfeld (R-Ill.), and one pro-draft senator, Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Also attending were pro-draft anthropologist Margaret Mead and anti-draft economists
Milton Friedman and Walter Oi. Friedman gave the general economic and philosophical
case for a voluntary military in his presentation, "Why Not a Voluntary
Army?" Friedman pointed out that the draft is a tax on young men. He stated:
"When a young man is forced to serve at $45 a week, including the cost
of his keep, of his uniforms, and his dependency allowances, and there are many
civilian opportunities available to him at something like $100 a week, he is
paying $55 a week in an implicit tax. … And if you were to add to those taxes
in kind, the costs imposed on universities and colleges; of seating, housing,
and entertaining young men who would otherwise be doing productive work; if
you were to add to that the costs imposed on industry by the fact that they
can only offer young men who are in danger of being drafted stopgap jobs, and
cannot effectively invest money in training them; if you were to add to that
the costs imposed on individuals of a financial kind by their marrying earlier
or having children at an earlier stage, and so on; if you were to add all these
up, there is no doubt at all in my mind that the cost of a volunteer force,
correctly calculated, would be very much smaller than the amount we are now
spending in manning our Armed Forces."
Reading through the whole Sol Tax volume, with all the papers and transcripts
of the discussion, I had the sense that there was a coalescing of views over
the four days, as people from various parts of the ideological spectrum found
that they had in common a strong antipathy to the draft and found also that
the economists made a surprisingly strong economic case. Both Friedman's speech
and his various comments at the conference still make compelling reading. One
of his best rhetorical flourishes was his criticism of the charge that those
who advocate ending the draft are advocating a "mercenary" army. You'll
recognize the same kind of argument he used against Westmoreland in the lead
quote of this article. Friedman said:
"Now, when anybody starts talking about this [an all-volunteer force]
he immediately shifts language. My army is 'volunteer,' your army is 'professional,'
and the enemy's army is 'mercenary.' All these three words mean exactly the
same thing. I am a volunteer professor, I am a mercenary professor, and I am
a professional professor. And all you people around here are mercenary professional
people. And I trust you realize that. It's always a puzzle to me why people
should think that the term 'mercenary' somehow has a negative connotation. I
remind you of that wonderful quotation of Adam Smith when he said, 'You do not
owe your daily bread to the benevolence of the baker, but to his proper regard
for his own interest.' And this is much more broadly based. In fact, I think
mercenary motives are among the least unattractive that we have." (p.
In the margin of my 35-year-old, dog-eared copy of the Sol Tax book containing
this passage, I wrote one word: "Wow!" This is rhetoric at its best,
a tight argument passionately stated. When I read this at about age 18, just
a year before meeting Friedman in his office, I felt cared-for. Fortunately,
being Canadian, I wasn't vulnerable to the draft. But I had the thought that
if I had grown up in United States, I would be so thankful that here was this
man, himself well beyond draft age and who could probably figure out how to
get his son out of the draft, and yet who cared enough to be out in front on
Two of Friedman's comments about this conference are worth noting. Writing
some 30 years later, Friedman noted that the 74 invited participants "included
essentially everyone who had written or spoken at all extensively on either
side of the controversy about the draft, as well as a number of students."
(Two Lucky People, p. 377.) Friedman's other comment is also worth citing:
"I have attended many conferences. I have never attended any other
that had so dramatic an effect on the participants. A straw poll taken at the
outset of the conference recorded two-thirds of the participants in favor of
the draft; a similar poll at the end, two-thirds opposed. I believe that this
conference was the key event that started the ball rolling decisively toward
ending the draft." (p. 378.)
Friedman didn't stop there. He wrote a number of articles in his tri-weekly
column in Newsweek making the case against the draft. Friedman was one
of 15 people chosen for Nixon's Commission on the All-Volunteer Force. By his
estimate, five started off being against the draft, five in favor, and five
on the fence. By the end, the Commission was able to come out with a 14-0 consensus
in favor of ending the draft. Black leader Roy Wilkins, in a Feb. 6, 1970 letter
to Nixon, stated he had been unable to attend many of the meetings due to a
major illness and, therefore, could not support its specific recommendations;
Wilkins did state, however, that he endorsed the idea of moving toward an all-volunteer
armed force. (The Report of the President's Commission on an All-Volunteer
Armed Force, New York: Collier Books, 1970; letter from Roy Wilkins.)
It was at one of these meetings that Friedman put Westmoreland on the spot
with his comeback about slaves. Knowing that Friedman was persuasive and focused
and also a warm human being, I credit him with having swung at least a few of
the Commission members in his direction. And although Nixon took his sweet time
acting on the recommendations, finally, at the start of his second term, he
let the draft expire. Friedman kibitzed in his Newsweek column, never
letting up. He once wrote that the draft "is almost the only issue on which
I have engaged in any extensive personal lobbying with members of the House
and Senate." (Milton Friedman, An Economist's Protest, 2nd ed.,
Glen Ridge, N.J.: Thomas Horton and Daughters, 1975, p. 188.)
And Friedman stuck around as an opponent of the draft when the going got tough.
In the late 1970s, high inflation caused a serious drop in real military pay
and a consequent increase in difficulty meeting recruiting quotas. Of all the
threats to bring back the draft in the last 32 years, the threat in 1979 to
1980 was the most serious. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) held hearings with the goal
of building support for the draft and, at least, registration for a future draft.
Hoover economist Martin Anderson organized an important conference on the draft
at the Hoover Institution in November 1979 and invited the top proponents and
opponents of the draft. (For the papers and transcript of the discussion, see
Martin Anderson, ed., Registration and the Draft: Proceedings of the Hoover-Rochester
Conference on the All-Volunteer Force, Stanford, California: Hoover Institution
Press, 1982.) Friedman was one of the attendees and, at the end, debated Congressman
Pete McCloskey on the draft. It was actually the weakest performance I've ever
seen by Friedman, but Friedman's "weak" is still pretty good.
In 1980, in response to the threat from Sam Nunn, I wrote and circulated the
following "Economists' Statement in Opposition to the Draft":
"We, the undersigned, oppose moves toward the reimposition of the draft.
The draft would be a more costly way of maintaining the military than an all-volunteer
force. Those who claim that a draft costs less than a volunteer military cite
as a savings the lower wages that the government can get away with paying draftees.
But they leave out the burden imposed on the draftees themselves. Since a draft
would force many young people to delay or forego entirely other activities valuable
to them and to the rest of society, the real cost of military manpower would
be substantially more than the wages draftees would be paid. Saying that a draft
would reduce the cost of the military is like saying that the pyramids were
cheap because they were built with slave labor."
Friedman's speed at signing made it much easier, I'm sure, to get the signatures
of almost 300 other prominent and not-so-prominent economists, including Kenneth
Boulding, Harold Demsetz, David Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Donald McCloskey,
William Meckling, Allen H. Meltzer, James C. Miller III, William A. Niskanen,
Mancur Olson, Sam Peltzman, Murray Rothbard, Jeremy J. Siegel, Vernon Smith,
Beryl W. Sprinkel, Jerome Stein, and James L. Sweeney.
The statement, with about 150 signatures, was published as a full-page ad in
Libertarian Review, Inquiry, and The Progressive.
Milton Friedman and I had our differences about foreign policy. I tried, in
vain, to persuade him to be against the first Gulf war. Even there, though,
he publicly supported, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle,
my economic argument against the war. He stated, "Henderson's analysis
is correct. There is no justification for intervention on grounds of oil."
(Jonathan Marshall, "Economists Say Iraq's Threat to U.S. Oil Supply Is
Exaggerated," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 29, 1990.) Friedman
did oppose the second Gulf war, as evidenced in an interview in the Wall
Street Journal, in which he called it, correctly, "aggression."
(Tunku Varadarajan, "The
Romance of Economics," Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2006; page A10).
As far as I know, though, Friedman did not oppose the second Gulf war publicly
when it mattered most – that is, before the March 2003 invasion. But on the draft,
Friedman never wavered. For that, many young American men owe him a lot.
Two weeks ago, I attended a conference in Guatemala at which it was announced
that Friedman had had a bad fall and was in the hospital. The person who announced
it, Bob Chitester, producer of the Friedmans' 1980 television series, Free
to Choose, handed out buttons that read, "Have you thanked Milton
Friedman today?" Thanks, Uncle Miltie.
Copyright © 2006 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to
reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.