Saturday, May 29, 2010

America's 'casualty gap'

Los Angeles Times opinion editorial "America's 'casualty gap'" (May 28th, 2010) reports the difference between the percentage of total wartime casualties suffered by members of poor communities relative to members of rich communities.
Nationally, in the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars, communities in the lowest three income deciles suffered 35%, 36% and 38% of the casualties, respectively. Yet communities in the top three income deciles sustained significantly fewer casualties — 25%, 26% and 23% of the casualties, respectively.
The United States has a volunteer army. Soldiers are compensated by regular pay, hazard pay, enlistment bonuses, government benefits, and well-earned gratitude from present and future generations. When the United States has a volunteer army, which it has since December 1972, the last month in which an individual was conscripted into the U.S. Armed Forces, it is an exercise in futility to argue any sort of discrimination. Individuals freely choose the Armed Services over their other options. They further choose their branch of service, as well as their military occupational specialty, generally speaking. If poorer people choose the military, it would appear, in a rough analysis, that they are benefitting more from its presence.

This may be especially true during wartime. Corrections cobbled together military pay for E-2 (an enlisted pay-grade corresponding to a Private in the Army, PFC in the Marine Corps, Airman in the Air Force, and Seaman Apprentice in the Navy and Coast Guard. It is a pay grade relatively rapidly achieved for enlisted men. Military pay sheets for every year were not easily available. Corrections imputed pay for those years in which it is not, denoted by a circle. Years featuring a war in which more than one-hundred Americans died (as well as the first three years of Operation Enduring Freedom, in which fewer than 100 Americans died) are denoted in red, while years without such a conflict are denoted in blue. It appears to Corrections, generally speaking, that post-draft wartime has caused more rapid increases in inflation-adjusted military pay. Therefore, it is difficult to discern without more careful calculus whether or not individuals are being compensated for the risks they are taking--with heterogeneous valuations, we might expect wartime military service to be better for poorer Americans who choose to serve, rather than worse. Our data is displayed graphically below (click to enlarge).

We note the sharp spike in pay occurred when Richard Nixon was engaged with the idea of an all-volunteer army.

Corrections should further add that including Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn in their analysis, without including the enrollment, average length of service, and rate of ascent figures for each income decile is egregiously misleading. In fact, both the lower class and the upper class are underrepresented in enrollment--this article's analysis would suggest that the middle class suffers disproportionately the costs of war.

In addition, a low-income recruit may not be identical to a high-income recruit, making it difficult to compare their wartime outcomes directly. For example, it is well known that income is correlated with education. If the army recruits more "high-quality" soldiers from higher income brackets, then we would expect these "high-quality" recruits to more quickly achieve higher and higher military rank, making them potentially less likely to be in the line of fire than their low quality counterparts. In this sense the article may be taking issue with the fact that more intelligent soldiers are less likely to die in battle. Similarly, if the poor serve longer than the rich, these statistics could be driven by the relative density of poor servicemen. Ultimately, the number of confounds in this analysis make it completely incredible.

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