Conscription: Economic costs and political allure

Panu Poutvaara, Andreas Wagener


Since Adam Smith, most economists have held that a professional army is superior to a conscript army, thanks to benefitting from comparative advantage and specialization. We summarize recent literature on the benefits and costs of the military draft, with special emphasis on its dynamic effects on human capital formation. Empirical evidence refutes the claim that the economic costs of the draft would be balanced by increased democratic control or reduced likelihood of war. Rather, the political allure of conscription seems to arise from the possibility to concentrate the tax burden on a minority of voters in a way that is generally held to be unacceptable with normal taxation.

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