Conscription (i.e., “the draft”) was ended in the United States more than forty years ago, but it continues to be widely used outside North America and Western Europe. Recently, conscription in Ukraine has become an international issue as the Ukrainian state has reinstated the draft and met with significant opposition in many areas of the country.
The use of forced military service in the region is hardly unique to Ukraine — Russia has a draft, too — but recent opposition has highlighted the fact that conscription is fundamentally incompatible with even a moderate amount of respect for private property.
Conscription as a 100 Percent Tax
“Conscription is slavery,” Murray Rothbard wrote in 1973, and while temporary conscription is obviously much less bad — assuming one outlives the term of conscription — than many other forms of slavery, conscription is nevertheless a nearly-100-percent tax on the production of one’s mind and body. If one attempts to escape his confinement in his open-air military jail, he faces imprisonment or even execution in many cases.
Conscription remains popular among states because it is an easy way to directly extract resources from the population. Just as regular taxes partially extract the savings, productivity, and labor of the general population, conscription extracts virtually all of the labor and effort of the conscripts. The burden falls disproportionately on the young males in most cases, and they are at risk of a much higher tax burden if killed or given a permanent disability in battle. If he’s lucky enough to survive the conflict, the conscript may find himself living out the rest of his life as disfigured or missing his eyesight and limbs. He may be rendered permanently undesirable to the opposite sex. Such costs imposed on the conscript are a form of lifelong taxation.
Fortunately for those who escape such a fate, the term of slavery ends at a specified time, but for the duration, the only freedom the conscript enjoys is that granted to him by his jailers. Rothbard explains:
… at whatever time the federal government deems fit, he is seized by the authorities and inducted into the armed forces. There his body and will are no longer his own; he is subject to the dictates of the government; and he can be forced to kill and to place his own life in jeopardy if the authorities so decree. What else is involuntary servitude if not the draft?