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Military Conscription, External Security, and Income Inequality: The Missing Link

Date: 29/01/2020

Publication: SAGE Journals

This article seeks to analyze the political economy of military conscription policy and its relationship with a country’s external security environment. National security is modeled as a non-rivalrous and non-excludable public good, whose production technology consists of either centrally conscripted or competitively recruited military labor. Conscription is construed as an implicit discretionary tax on citizens’ labor endowment. Based on this, I propose a simple political economy model of pure public goods provision financed by two policy instruments: a lump-sum income tax and a conscription tax. Constraint optimization of a quasi-linear utility function gives rise to three general classes of preferences: high- and low-skilled citizens will prefer an all-volunteer army, albeit of different size, whereas medium-skilled citizens will favor positive levels of conscription. These derived preferences allow me to tease out an explicit relationship between military manpower procurement policy, a country’s level of external threat, and its pre-tax income inequality levels. One of my key findings is that more egalitarian countries are more likely to use conscription as a military manpower procurement mechanism.