Anyway: Bryan Caplan is one of those people who even when I agree with his conclusions, I feel like he's wrong. Here's a post where he asserts that "conscription is slavery" (echoed by Robin Hanson, my other bete noire). Now, I am no fan of conscription or the military. But there's clearly something wrong here, if only because this has exactly the same form as the standard libertarian assertion that "taxation is theft", and there's clearly something wrong with that. So I wrote in a comment:
Conscription is slavery in exactly the same way that taxation is theft: that is, it isn't really, except in the most superficial form of analysis. And just as your precious bank account is not really yours in some cosmic, absolute, and unqualified way, neither is your body or self, it turns out. The government gets to take a slice of both. Why? Because it's the government.To expand on the cryptic second paragraph, Caplan should check out his colleague Daniel Klein's paper The People's Romance. He's just down the hall (I imagine). This paper outlines a reasonably good theory of why governments exist, why people align themselves to it, and why that's important to the functioning of society.
The way people around here and Hanson's blog use the idea of status is fairly obtuse. Instead of saying "people have a very strong innate bias for government over firms", maybe you should enquire as to why that is.
If you are an anarchist, then OK, you can complain about government all you want. If not, then you really can't whine when it comes around to collect the bill.
The larger point: the only reason libertarians can maintain their stupid ideology is because they are, almost uniformly, white middle-class suburbanites who are almost completely isolated from the violence necessary to prop up the state that maintains their pampered little lives. They don't go to prison, they don't go off to fight in wars. And they don't actually fight the government, as real radicals do, and thus they never feel its wrath.
The core of libertarianism (and most other anarchist tendencies) is to take the fact that modern societies have more or less granted government a monopoly of violence and "coercion", and reason from there that if only we got rid of government, we'd get rid of the violence. The error here is completely obvious once you've thought about it for ten seconds, yet the idea won't die. Anarchists are like atheists -- they define themselves by what they claim not to believe in.
Libertarianism always involves a corruption of language. They took the perfectly good word "libertarian" and co-opted it to mean an apologist for power, and Caplan is busy trying to do exactly the same thing for "pacifist", so that it no longer means someone deeply committed to non-violence, who will risk their life for the principle, but just someone who thinks in the abstract that war is bad. Is Caplan going to lie down in front of a troop transport? I think not.
So does the fact that Bryan Caplan doesn't like conscription mean I have to be for it? Not really. But there's one somewhat good argument for it -- it democratizes the costs of war, and thus may dampen the tendency of states to go to war. That dynamic certainly was active during the Vietnam War era, and is absent now. If states are inevitable, then wars are inevitable, and the best way to keep it in check might be to make sure everyone has a risk of being killed, or forced to kill. Or else forced to become actual pacifists, conscientious objectors who will actually risk something for their principles.
[update: some unrelated George Mason shenanigans. And it appears that the next Commerce Secretary may come out of the Mercatus Center? WTF?]