Inflation and recession at home. Humiliation abroad. In the wake of the Vietnam War, America was foundering. Yet, the seeds of a national resurgence had already been planted by a most unlikely pair: Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and Melvin R. Laird, Richard Nixon’s secretary of defense.
Throughout most of the Cold War, the United States used the draft to fill its military ranks. Previously, we had resorted to conscription only during hot wars — the Civil War and the two World Wars. But Cold War Congresses went along with a peacetime draft, because they thought it would be cheap.
Well, like most good “deals,” you get what you pay for. The quality of draftees wasn’t great. Motivation and morale were worse. And because they left as soon as their enlistment was up, the cost of training replacements made the draftee military not much of a bargain.
Along came Friedman, who had long argued that a draft was “inconsistent with a free society.” As the head of a presidential commission, he also made the case that an all-volunteer force would be more economical and far more effective than a conscription-based military. When Congress ended the draft in 1973, Laird put Friedman’s theories into practice.