I never hear military members carp about the 99.5 percent of the population that does not serve in the military. Why is that? I sometimes hear them complain about an aging fleet or back-to-back deployments or diminishing benefits or my persistent desire to go out to dinner. Yet I never hear people in the military wish that everyone else would serve.
That puzzles me. Because that “less than one percent” number gets trotted out every time someone mentions Joining Forces. I hear “less than one percent” and feel guilty about dodging the recruiter at the mall. I hear “less than one percent” and feel compelled to bake a pie for some nice Marine. I don’t bake the pie, but I feel like I should.
I am such a slacker. I know if it were my job to deploy all the time and wear that scratchy uniform and occasionally meet people who might shoot at me, I would be adamant about spreading that experience to the rest of the population.
So why don’t our military folks insist on universal military service?
Maybe they are all saints and heroes. Then again, maybe something in their military experience makes them aware of the benefits that come along with comparative advantage.
If I understand this right, the economic theory called comparative advantage says that it is not very efficient to take on every task you are capable of doing. Instead, you are supposed to specialize in the tasks you are relatively better at compared to other tasks. This works for countries, for states, for companies, even for the division of labor in families.
Comparative advantage means that although I could probably do what the average military person does (if forced into it by some sergeant major in really cruel boots), I would never be very good at that military job. By temperament alone, I know I personally would crash a lot of planes and cry all the time and whine as if my soul were escaping from a very small opening. But I could probably do it.
I am pretty sure this is why Uncle Sam does not want me -- or anyone like me -- in the military. In this concentrated modern force, military members know they need the kind of people who have comparative advantage on this military job to do it.
They aren’t expecting pies and cakes from the rest of the population in return (although pies and cakes and care packages in general are kinda nice to get). Instead, I think what they expect is that the rest of us ought to be doing the jobs for which we too have a comparative advantage. I don’t think they expect us to volunteer in their name, either. I think they expect us to be doing our share in the division of national labor -- and let them do their share in return.