Is it a Volunteer Army?

A new lawsuit will force the federal courts to decide whether the military's stop-loss policy is legal. The policy basically says that tours of duty end if and when the FedGov wants them to end, and not before. A key point seems to be that while stop-loss is legal during times of war, Congress has not declared a war or a national emergency. Read about it in the Army Times, on the Beeb, or listen to the NPR report.

Effectively, this is a draft on people about to leave the military. The same economic arguments that apply to the draft apply here, although its not quite as bad because it's less random. But it does not allow people who now have better alternatives to pursue them. For example, people whose valuations of their own life have changed (say, by becoming parents) can't move to less risky careers.

The military labor shortage is because the downside to being a soldier has gone up dramatically but the salary has not been adjusted to match, so there is an undersupply of soldiers. There was a lag on this effect because most soldiers are locked into long-term contracts. But now that its coming, the government is trying to forcibly extend these labor contracts rather than just adjusting its salary to the new equilibrium price. Typical market interventionism, which the courts will hopefully stop.

(Thanks to Hit And Run for the tip).

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It's my understanding that

It's my understanding that the defendant explicitly agreed to the possibility of just such an extension of service in his enlistment contract. So while I disagree with the policy, I don't think the soldier in question has a legal leg to stand on.

Er, the plaintiff, not

Er, the plaintiff, not defendent.

If a soldier's enlistment

If a soldier's enlistment runs out while his unit is deployed he or she can be retained under stop loss. It was intended to keep trained personnel from being lost during operations. Anyone who enlists is made aware of this when they sign the enlistment papers. If you don't like the terms of the contract, don't sign.

Thats true- if it is put in

Thats true- if it is put in as part of the contract, then they gotta expect that it could come to pass.

OTOH, the US govt is unique among contract parties in the US in that they can compel specific performance (with the alternative of incarceration) unlike, say, every other employer in america. That strikes me as being wrong in the 'ought' sense if not the 'is'.

I think the real issue is

I think the real issue is one of specific performance, which exists even without a stop-loss policy. Soldiers don't get to quit like other workers. To the extent that their contract is valid in the first place isn't it part of that contract that the government may keep them on at it's discretion?

"The same economic arguments that apply to the draft apply here, although its not quite as bad because it's less random. But it does not allow people who now have better alternatives to pursue them."

Better for whom? Thes policies are in *somebody's* interest, aren't they?

I don't buy the argument.

I don't buy the argument. The authorization by congress to 'use force' is a de jure declaration of war; it simply lacks the name because we have a treaty obligation to never 'declare war' (the UN Treaty 'outlaws' war, dontcha know).

If the only objection is semantic, this case is DOA.

I have a problem with the stop-loss orders simply because of the conscription angle. It shouldn't be legal for the US government to issue such orders under any circumstances short of domestic invasion. They should have given them a counter-offer.

indeed, the market price for soldiers has gone up simply because demand has risen and the supply has lowered (the risk of harm is now greatly increased, lowering people's willingness to join the military). The price per soldier needs to rise, too.

Patri Friedman, A key point

Patri Friedman,

A key point seems to be that while stop-loss is legal during times of war, Congress has not declared a war or a national emergency.

Congress need not declare war in for the U.S. to be at war; indeed, it has the power to declare all sorts of "imperfect" forms of war (indeed, in the case of an invasion, its also clear that the President has some power to meet that challenge prior to any Congressional action). The myth that the U.S. must declare war to be at war is just that - a myth.

One of the best and earliest examples of how Congress' power has been framed historically can be found in a case concerning the "quasi-war" with France:

Bas v. Tingy, 4 US (4 Dall.) 37 (1803)

I don't buy the argument. The authorization by congress to "use force" is a de jure declaration of war; it simply lacks the name because we have a treaty obligation to never "declare war" (the UN Treaty "outlaws" war, dontcha know).

Can you point to the portion of the UN charter which states that? Or are you referring to one of the possible interpretations of Article 51 of that Charter?

:beatnik:

For clarification, my

For clarification, my comment about us not being at war was simply parotting the newspapers report of the plaintiff's lawyer's argument. I have no particular opinion on the legal situation.

I think the appropriate

I think the appropriate question is not whether the U.S. goverment has the legal authority to compel specific performance (it does), but whether we really want it to, because it is such a tremendous power.

In this case, I am in favor the forced retention of soldiers and sailors, as long as it is clearly explained during the contract signing.

Still, recruiters vary greatly in quality and openness, although they seem to have improved remarkably over the years.

I tend to think of arguments such as "those who sign the papers know..." not to be entirely convicing because recruiters do not--as far as I know--give a universal Miranda-type warning to new recruits about the rights they will have, and the rights they will give up. The military services might do well by standardizing the contract procedure (and perhaps videotaping the crucial elements).

However, the US Military is

However, the US Military is spending hand-over-fist to buy private security contractors in many places; if they're willing to spend the big bucks on contractors, why not offer the "stop-loss" soldier a premium, too?

I agree that the US govt as presently constituted has the legal standing to compel the specific performance (stop loss orders), but I think that in the long run it will be deleterious to military morale and thus more expensive (because wage rates WILL have to go up to make recruiting quotas, since a new draft is a non-starter, politically). Its better, in my mind, to pay up front for the human capital who's quality is known and engender some 'institutional goodwill' in the process, rather than simply command and compel soldiers to work against their will when their revealed preference is that the old contract is no longer good enough/pays enough to induce their continued service.

I wonder what instituting a "double-time" pay rate would cost? And how many people would gripe (as loudly, perhaps) if they were stop-lossed with a 100% raise?

John T. Kennedy, Courts are

John T. Kennedy,

Courts are pretty much loathe to force someone to finish their contract (partly because courts just don't like to monitor such things and partly because of the constitutional implications of such); they generally would much rather just make the offending party pay a damage award (be it consequential damages or whatever) and for the party who was not at fault to mitigate its damages. Of course this a K with the government, and those tend to work differently than a K with a private entity, partly because the government can toss your ass in jail for violating the contract.

:beatnik:

I appreciate the

I appreciate the clarifications about the terms of the contract. So from a contractarian angle, it sounds pretty clear the soldiers have nothing to complain about.

On the other hand, we can consider the question of economic efficiency totally separately. It is from that standpoint that I argue that retaining soldiers who want to leave is likely to be inefficient, for similar reasons to a draft. The job description has changed, therefore the optimal set of people to do it has changed.

One way to see the inefficiency is to realize that a voluntary exchange is being blocked. For example, suppose that Bob is an army radio tech who has been held by stop-loss. He was expecting to leave the army last year to join a communications company for $50K/yr, and so his wife had gotten pregnant. Now, she has twins. Suppose it costs $20,000 to train a new soldier so he can do Bob's job. It will also cost $5K/yr in increased salary to get the new soldier to sign up. Bob might be delighted to be docked $20K in pay plus $5K/yr to get the hell out and go be a dad, but he does not have that option.

The army would be losing experience, but they'd also have workers who wanted to do their job. As Brian points out, this goodwill is significant. New hires are going to want even more money if they expect to be stop-lossed.

Better for whom? Thes

Better for whom? Thes policies are in somebodyâ??s interest, arenâ??t they?

My perspective is that of economic efficiency which is a decent (though imperfect) proxy for net societal utility. This is the theoretical perspective from which government policies should be designed, according to economists. When I say "better", I mean "better for net societal utility". But of course, the government doesn't actually act this way, so its no surprise that they implement economically inefficient policies.

While the government rarely cares about such analysis, its useful to play with now so that when we have anarcho-capitalism or independent seasteads, we have some practice at finding efficient solutions. Then we can get hired as consultants for PDAs :beatnik:.

"I appreciate the

"I appreciate the clarifications about the terms of the contract. So from a contractarian angle, it sounds pretty clear the soldiers have nothing to complain about."

But since rights are inalienable it is not just to compel specific performance.

"On the other hand, we can consider the question of economic efficiency totally separately."

If soldiers are free to quit whenever they like won't they be apt to quit when they are needed most, when the danger is greatest? How practical is it to replace your trained soldiers with raw recruits on the eve of battle? If the enemy does compel specific performance won't his forces be in better shape for battle?

This needs a lot more thought.

"This is the theoretical

"This is the theoretical perspective from which government policies should be designed, according to economists."

And I'm sure government officials have their ideas about how economics should be done. But why should government officials choose the ends prescribed by econimists?

"When I say â??better", I mean â??better for net societal utility."

Why should any individual prefer net societal utility to his own good?

If soldiers are free to quit

If soldiers are free to quit whenever they like wonâ??t they be apt to quit when they are needed most, when the danger is greatest?

I did not suggest that they should be allowed to quit on the eve of battle. But over long periods of time, or when the job changes, life priorities change. Its at that point it may be more efficient to let people leave if they want (charging them for it).

And Iâ??m sure government officials have their ideas about how economics should be done. But why should government officials choose the ends prescribed by econimists?

Mostly, they shouldn't. But in a competitive market for government, whether it be ancap, dynamic geography, or federalism, they will care in order to not go out of business. Even in a monopoly govt, they should care a tiny bit, since the economists goals are about making people happy, and politicians care a nonzero amount about this (although its dwarfed by their personal and immediate concerns).

Why should any individual prefer net societal utility to his own good?

No individual necessarily should, if he has a choice about it. But none of us get to dictate terms. Instead we must negotiate with other selfish individuals.

"I did not suggest that they

"I did not suggest that they should be allowed to quit on the eve of battle."

You did write: "The military labor shortage is because the downside to being a soldier has gone up dramatically but the salary has not been adjusted to match, so there is an undersupply of soldiers."

The downside to being a soldier goes up dramatically when the time comes to fight.

If you condone the compelling of specific performance then there is really not much objection at all that can be raised to the current arrangement. If recruits want more flexibility they can hold out for it.