Hoover Institution
Rose and Milton Freidman

Milton and Rose Friedman

An Uncommon Couple

Milton Friedman and the All-Volunteer Army

Meeting of the Gates Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, 1970 – Image credit: White House Photo
Meeting of the Gates Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, 1970 – Image credit: White House Photo

Milton Friedman, a longtime opponent of military conscription, believed that the draft flouted the principles of a free society, arguing that conscription was "inequitable and arbitrary, seriously interfer[ing] with the freedom of young men to shape their lives" (Capitalism and Freedom, p. 36). Milton also felt that the army could be made more efficient and cost-effective were young men paid to perform military services, just as society pays its citizens to perform jobs.

Milton's participation in the 1969 Gates Commission Report was instrumental in ending the draft:

On March 27, 1969, less than three months after he had been inaugurated, President Nixon announced the creation of a fifteen-member "Advisory Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force under the Chairmanship of the Honorable Thomas S. Gates, Jr., former Secretary of Defense," and chairman of the executive committee of Morgan Guaranty Trust Co... Most presidential and congressional commissions are named to dispose of an issue that is politically troublesome. They hold hearings, prepare reports, and are never heard from again. This one was destined to be an exception. It was named to provide the support – intellectual, moral, and political – that was necessary to get policy favored by the president enacted. And it performed its function, submitting its final report on February 20, 1970. Conscription was ended on January 27, 1973. – Two Lucky People, p. 379

Milton regarded his participation in the Gates Commission as one of the highlights of his public policy career:

No public-policy activity that I have ever engaged in has given me as much satisfaction as the All-Volunteer Commission. I regarded the draft as a major stain on our free society. I had talked and written against it for more than a decade. Membership in the commission enabled me to contribute to ending the draft far more directly, and in addition was intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding. To cap it all, it was crowned with success, not only in the sense that legislation was enacted to terminate the draft, but more important, that by general consent the all-volunteer army has displayed in practice for more than two decades the advantages that we claimed for it in our report – Two Lucky People, p. 381

Read the Gates Commission Report on an All-Volunteer Armed Force


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