Posted by: mulrickillion | October 26, 2011

The Worldwide Decline in Conscription: A Victory for Economics?

By Joshua C. Hall, Library of Economics and Liberty, Oct 3, 2011 —

"People’s opportunity costs of producing various goods and services, including military services, differ. Conscription ignores the fact that some individuals have a comparative advantage in food production or engineering or teaching and, instead, forces everyone drafted into a military occupation less directly in line with their abilities."


Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of individuals into government service. Historically, however, conscription has referred primarily to the military. While governments since antiquity have conscripted people into their militaries, the conscription of a large segment of a country’s citizens to meet military goals is a fairly recent phenomenon.1 Prior to the French Revolution, conscription occurred but was fairly rare.2

Beginning in 1793, however, Napoleon took conscription to an entirely new level. The recently expanded French administrative state with its armies of bureaucrats and its extensive information about citizens lowered the cost to Napoleon of implementing a draft.3 Mass conscription allowed Napoleon to raise an army of over 750,000 men by 1794.4 Napoleon then instituted a draft in regions under French control, such as the Italian Republic and the Kingdoms of Naples and Westphalia. France’s subsequent success on the battlefield led other countries to see conscription as the source of Napoleon’s military prowess, and they were quick to imitate—leading to mass conscription throughout Europe.5. . . .

Joshua C. Hall, The Worldwide Decline in Conscription: A Victory for Economics? | Library of Economics and Liberty


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