Ryan McMaken, editor of the Mises Instute’s Mises Wire, takes issue with my July 9, 2015 article for The Federalist supporting the inclusion of aspiring immigrants in the military. The naturalization-by-fighting program has resulted in over 100,000 patriotic Americans becoming officially recognized as Americans. Now there are reports that some immigrant-soldiers in the process of serving are being discharged (though the nature and extent of such discharges is disputed).
McMaken (link to his article) characterizes the military as both a handout and a “jobs program.” The idea that the military should be treated as a jobs program is something I fiercely disagree with, which was the point of my article. Congressmen were arguing against allowing non-citizens to become soldiers on the basis that it might deny American-born citizens a job. McMaken accurately quoted a representative excerpt: “I’m not worried about the country or origin of those who are fighting to defend us. What matters is that our military is as strong as it can be.”
McMaken thinks that the military is actually treated as a jobs program by legislators and officials. To the extent that it is, I oppose such treatment, as I wrote.
McMaken writes, “The rub, however, is that military spending doesn’t actually improve the economy.” I basically agree with him. Military spending shouldn’t be about improving the economy. It should be about buying a product.
However, while McMaken chooses a nice excerpt, he did not accurately characterize my position:
Military fan boys will of course assure us that every single military job and every single dollar spent on the military is absolutely essential. It’s all the service of “fighting for freedom.” For instance, Mitchell Blatt writes, in the context of immigrant recruits, “I’m not worried about the country or origin of those who are fighting to defend us. What matters is that our military is as strong as it can be.” The idea at work here is that the US military is a lean machine, doing only what is necessary to get the job done, and as cost effectively as possible. Thus, hiring the “best” labor, from whatever source is absolutely essential.
Pay attention to the part in bold. My article was about what the military should do, not what it does do. Yes, there are areas where the military wastes money. Some of those are caused by politicians meddling. The reluctance of Congressional representatives to allow for the closing of bases the Department of Defense itself recognizes as unnecessary and inefficient is a perpetual disgrace, but a predictable one in a representative democracy structured such as ours.
McMaken also suggests that soldiers’ salaries are expensive:
There’s also evidence that military personnel receive higher pay in the military than do their private-sector counterparts with similar levels of education and training.
Military personnel also face higher risk of death and less comfortable living conditions on average than do their private-sector counterparts with similar levels of education and training, so it is absolutely predictable and rational that they should get paid more than the average comparable worker who faces less risks and isn’t sent overseas to fight in an underdeveloped country for months at a time.
McMaken goes on to raise red herrings unrelated to my argument. In the next two paragraphs after he first referenced my article, he writes:
This, however, rather strains the bounds of credibility. The US military is more expensive than the next eight largest militaries combined. The US’s navy is ten times larger than the next largest navy. The US’s air force is the largest in the world, and the second largest air force belongs, not to a foreign country, but to the US Navy.
Yet, we’re supposed to believe that any cuts will imperil the “readiness” of the US military.
The U.S. military has a large budget because it is third largest in the world in terms of active duty troops and the most technologically advanced, with the most aircraft carriers and planes. The argument over whether or not non-citizens should be allowed to serve in the military has nothing to do with the argument over the size of the military. Even if you wanted to cut the military to 100,000 active troops, it would cost the same whether those troops are all non-citizens or all native-born citizens. The birth origin of the soldiers of the military is absolutely irrelevant to how much the military costs.
McMaken’s article is in fact a jeremiad against the size of the military, which he thinks is too big (as does the Mises Institute). He takes the immigrant angle as the hook in order to make a long-standing ideological argument.
In fact, McMaken concludes by arguing for mass layoffs of American-born soldiers as well:
In truth, layoffs in the military sector ought to be far more widespread, and hardly limited to immigrants. The Trump Administration is wrong when it suggests that the positions now held by immigrant recruits ought to be filled by American-born recruits. Those positions should be left unfilled. Permanently.
My argument was over the role of immigrants in the military, not over the military’s size, and clearly we need a military (and one much larger than McMaken and Mises presumably want). But no matter the size of the military, the question of whether or not people should be allowed to get citizenship by joining the military remains an open question, and McMaken did not in fact refute my position.