Conscripted Labor

Yesterday I posed an idea that pursuing happiness may be at odds with employment.  The decline of labor force participation may be a positive development rather than a bad development.

I had only my personal biographical experience to draw upon and that dampened any prospect for a sweeping conclusion.   I only had a single anecdote of one individual.  It might be informative to expose that anecdote more deeply to provide at least a case study of someone who hates employment, but I really hate talking about myself so explicitly.   Anyone who knows me can confirm that I go great lengths to avoid talking about myself at all.

At the risk of wasting another day on this topic, I’m going to try again with counter argument.  Perhaps it is a good thing to have people unhappily employed.

The title of the post is the idea of conscripted labor.

Conscripted labor is putting people into the labor pool without regard to their personal preference.  Some people may love their assignments including the ones who may grow to love their assignments.  But there is no option to drop out for the ones who hate the fact they are there and who will never change their minds.

I’m trying to tame the word as much as possible so that it may refer to compulsory service (usually but not necessarily military service) many societies require of young adults in the age range of 19-25.   But I have in mind the specific example of the military draft in the 1960s-1970s to serve in a controversial war.

The Viet Nam war (the hot war) occurred when I was between 4 and 14 years old.  I was too young to be effected, but I did pay attention to the news and I do recall anxiety as watching my age approach draft age.

Disclaimer: my knowledge of the war and the politics is insufficient claim any sort of authority on any aspect of it.

Besides being more modernized, the major difference between Viet Nam war and the later Middle-East wars was the presence of non-volunteered personnel in the earlier.

I’m distinguishing the group of people who volunteer for service but may dislike their assignments from those who didn’t volunteer for the service in the first place.   The latter group presents a challenge that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

I am conjecturing that maybe part of what made that war more controversial was the presence on the inside of people who didn’t volunteer.   Non-volunteers are more motivated to challenge the system.   Challenging the system creates or exacerbates the controversies.  It complicates decision making and frustrates the execution of plans.

Assume the scenario where military officers prefer an all-volunteer force over a force that includes conscripts, and where conscripts includes a major faction who would never have volunteered.   Everyone is unhappy.

Is this a bad thing?

The heightened controversy caused by the draft may have been good thing in a democratic government such as ours.  The conscripted introduced a motivated group to challenge decision makers to refine their arguments and defend their positions.  Positions on both sides were aggressively challenged.   No side had an overwhelming support and thus the tides changed often.

At the end of that war, there was an assessment that the entire enterprise was a failure, that no one really won.   Even society as a whole was unhappy.

One thing we agreed on was to strive for an all volunteer force.  This makes everyone happy.  While the later wars became unpopular and had ambiguous (at best) conclusions, we were mostly spared of the controversy we experienced earlier.  These were much more comfortable wars.

The lack of controversy was in part because there was little motivation to challenge the consensus view.   The recent wars certainly challenged us technologically, logistically, tactically, and strategically.   A volunteer workforce focused their efforts on solving these problems.  Left largely unchallenged was the reasoning behind why these problems had to be solved in the first place.

Maybe too many people were too comfortable in the overall execution of these recent wars.

There were many decision points along they way that may have benefited from stronger challenge from an opposing point of view.   Conscripting personnel can provide a internal dissent even while they obey the rules and orders.

It seems this can be helpful.

Back to my original point of the perceived benefits of high labor-force participation (percentage of working-age people who have full time jobs).   Perhaps the ones who are not participating are pursuing their personal happiness.    In that pursuit they are withholding their unhappy participation in the workforce.   Companies, organizations, and governments may suffer if their workforce is largely happy with their jobs.

It is analogous to the executive office surrounded by “yes-men” leading the organization to a disaster that no one sees coming because they are too comfortable to question anything.

Policies and cultural norms that encourage reluctant workers to participate in the labor force may introduce a new level of motivated consent within the workplace.   This may not be a bad thing overall.

It is selfish for me to prefer pursuing happiness over being employed.

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One thought on “Conscripted Labor

  1. Pingback: Workforce participation decline: some are dodging conscripted labor | kenneumeister

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