Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Big paychecks are luring top American military specialists into the employ of private military corporations, the NYT reports this morning.

Oh vey! (Note how the NYT quite nicely keeps all the private military companies anonymous.)

These privateers are "experts with handguns and rifles, physically fit, hand-selected guys that also speak a foreign language," trained for who knows how much taxpayer money, and then snatched up by the for-profit war/security sector. The phenomenon of top American military forces defecting to the private sector can tell us something interesting about the labor market for lethal operatives.

The wages offered by the US military are well below the market rate:

"We can never compete dollar-for-dollar with outside firms," said Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Martens Jr. of the Air Force, the senior enlisted adviser to General Brown. "We compete on job satisfaction."

Or in other words, service in the US military constitutes some non-market value that more than compensates for the spread between military and private sector wage rates. This non-market value, what we may call a patriotism dividend, owes to the feelings of valor and public prestige bestowed through service to country and from sacrifice on behalf of American liberal ideals.

The article notes that the demand for these workers escalated in the aftermath of 9/11 and particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given that, in both of those places, insurgent forces have directed violence upon both private sector and military workers, we can assume that the risk premia assumed by both public and private military forces are comparable.

Thus, we can infer from the exodus of special military forces from the public sector to the private sector that the patriotism dividend is shrinking in the post 9/11 era. For the military "cream of the crop"--the most educated, highly skilled and culturally aware--service in the US military on behalf of the foreign policy it underwrites is losing its value...dare I say for the moral bankruptcy (or at least moral relativism) of the war in Iraq. Viewed another way, the Bush administration's unapologetic pursuit of a belicose American empire has trampled on the moral righteousness of American liberal ideals and shred the bond that compels individuals to serve in its interest.


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