Smooth Criminals & Bad Arguments

politics of fear-smFrom: The Room with David Galland

Dear Reader,

While it seems churlish to complain about traveling too much – especially when those travels include so many agreeable places… Paris, Dublin, Portugal, Buenos Aires, Salta City, Cafayate, Asunción… where I have stayed over the past month – it can get pretty grueling.

Especially when there is inevitably a tall pile of work waiting on return… work that has had me at the desk at ridiculous hours this week.

I mention this only as something of a caveat if I seem a bit cranky as I address an issue that has caught my eye this week.

As I begin, and with apologies to those of you with tamer musical tastes, I am listening to Alien Ant Farm's rendition of Smooth Criminal. For reasons you'll soon understand, it seems appropriate.

Like you, I read a lot.

And while I regularly come across commentary that strikes me as little more than mindless drivel, recently I have begun to notice something far more concerning than public displays of ignorance.

I refer to deliberate attempts to pollute the public mindset using specious arguments that appear carefully construed to dupe the dupable. In a rare attempt at brevity, I will get straight to a couple of examples to make my point.

Draft the Kids!

This week's winner of the most ill-conceived and downright aggravating mainstream media article is, hands down, an essay titled "Let's Draft Our Kids" that appeared in the New York Times. This fascist manifesto was penned during what must have been a psychotic break by one Thomas Ricks who fashions himself as something of an authority on martial matters.

To get the full sour flavor of the article, you should read it yourself, but to give you a taste of what Mr. Ricks, if left to his own devices, would subject his children to – that is if he were actually able to find someone to mate with him, about which I am skeptical – here's the CliffsNotes.

  • Every child, upon graduating high school, will be taken from their family and made a slave in the service of the military for a minimum of 18 months.
  • It would not be mandatory (at least not if there weren't an active war going on… which there pretty much always is) for these slaves to actually fight if they didn't want to, but instead, according to Ricks…

"…[they] could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don't have to."

As part of their training, perhaps Mr. Ricks would also require that the recruits be taught to sing such classics as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "The Gospel Train's a-Comin'" and "We Will March Through the Valley" in a harmony the generals find agreeable.

  • If, for some reason, a teenager proved recalcitrant about the idea of being a slave to the military, he or she could opt for being a slave to the greater good, serving civilian masters for a longer period than 18 months and doing tasks such as…

"…teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly.

"This, according to Ricks, seems a grand idea, because…

"…the government could use this cheap labor in new ways, doing jobs that governments do in other countries but which have been deemed too expensive in this one, like providing universal free day care or delivering meals to elderly shut-ins."

And it gets better, because…

"The pool of cheap labor available to the federal government would broadly lower its current personnel costs and its pension obligations — especially if the law told federal managers to use the civilian service as much as possible, and wherever plausible. The government could also make this cheap labor available to states and cities."

This is such a good idea, it is shocking to me that no one has tried it before. Oh, wait, they have: The Khmer Rouge.

Lazily quoting Wikipedia (now 67% accurate!): "They [the Khmer Rouge] forced many people out of their homes and ignored many basic human freedoms; they controlled how Cambodians acted, what they wore, who they could talk to, and many other aspects of their lives."

Sounds kind of like being dragged off as a slave to me.

(I should mention that many NATO countries had a similar conscription scheme in the past, but – hopefully seeing the error of their ways – all but eight phased it out in recent years, in favor of all-volunteer armies.)

  • Mr. Ricks does make one small nod in the direction of the idea that the US is the land of the free by offering an opt-out. In his own words…

"And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it."

Let me stop there, because I think Mr. Ricks has handed us enough rope to hoist him up on his own petard.

We don't need to break much of a sweat to do so as the cracks in his critical thinking yawn wide. For instance:

  • The last time I checked, the US was not a communist slave camp. That Comrade Ricks, with the wave of an imperial hand, chooses those graduating from high school as his most desirable slaves is just a policy decision. His core principle, however, is that the state will have the right to force anyone into labor camps against their will. Need computer programmers? Think how much the state could save by drafting up a passel of those!
  • Mr. Ricks cleverly offers libertarians "who declined to help Uncle Sam" to opt out and thereafter eschew any state benefits. You can almost see him puffing up in his chair as he adds what he thinks is a threat by writing, "Those who want minimal government can have it."

Oh, no, not that! With hardly a flip of a synapse, even a legitimate moron should spot that Mr. Ricks is being completely disingenuous. For proof of that contention, let's ask Mr. Ricks a few questions and try to divine how he might reply.

"Mr. Ricks, glad to have you with us today."

"Nice to be here, I think."

"Your plan would allow 'libertarians' to opt out. Out of curiosity, why did you single out libertarians as those most likely to opt out? As opposed to, say, Quakers? Or, perhaps, anyone who actually felt they had something better to do with their lives than submit to being marched about or having to clean public urinals?"

"Ah, well, you know those libertarians… always complaining about the size of government and encroachments on personal liberties and all that. I guess they just popped to mind as a group that true patriots will understand as being uncooperative in these sorts of things."

"Thanks for clearing that up. So, let's get to the terms of your deal. If anyone wants to opt out of being a slave, they can."

"Well, I don't think I'd go so far as to call them a slave."

"Shut up, I'm asking the questions here."

"Whaaa? Okay, that's it! This interview is over, I'm out of here!"

"Sorry, but I'm in charge, and you're not going anywhere. See, that's how the whole slave thing works. Now, get back to my question before I make you strip down and run laps in the rain! So, if someone opts out of being your slave, then they will be detached from the benefits offered by the state, right?"

"That's right."

"Does that mean that they get to stop paying for benefits they will no longer be getting? For example, taxes related to Social Security and Medicare? I'm betting that if you made that offer to the public at large, millions would stand in line for days to sign up for it."

"Ah, no. They still have to pay. They have an obligation to this great nation of ours, a nation founded on the principles of shared sacrifice and justice for all."

"Just answer the question, or it's out in the rain with you. And for the record, the nation was founded on the principle that citizens have the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now, being forced to serve in the military seems to carry the potential to step on all three of those rights.

"Regardless, you admit that under your plan, an individual would still be expected to pay all taxes but get minimal benefits in return. So despite your claim that an individual can opt for 'minimal government,' in actual fact, they are still carrying the full burden of the bloated bureaucracy?"

"Ah, I guess. Yes."

"As I suspected. Now drop your clothes and get running, and keep running until I tell you to stop."

There is much else wrong with Mr. Ricks' article, including the reality that there are minimal, if any, savings in a slave economy once you factor in care and feeding, plus the loss of taxes that would have otherwise been paid by productive young people pursuing their dreams, versus being hijacked for the sick fantasies of Mr. Ricks and his ilk. Then there's the reality that slaves don't make the most enthusiastic of workers, which translates to a poor return on the investment.

Of course, it's not all about economics – Ricks tries to frame the argument as a win-win because, in addition to the cost savings to be gained from enslaving the youth, it is his contention that doing so will also make the PMIC (Political-Military-Industrial Complex) think twice about starting wars.

Hey, here's a concept: just stop starting wars. After all, 99% of the other countries of the world seem to manage to do without. Wonder what they know that the US doesn't?

Remarkably, this idea of a draft continues to be trotted out. It's not just sloppy thinking, it is dangerous. It is also, sadly, far from being alone in the spotlight of stupidity. Here's another.

(continued at Casey Research)