Walter Oi has passed away

Here is an appreciation from David Henderson.  Here is an appreciation from Steve Landsburg.  Oi played a key role in helping to end the military draft, he was a mainstay of the Rochester economics program, he wrote an essential piece on the economics of two-part tariffs, he analyzed the implications of labor as a fixed factor for employment over the course of the business cycle, and also he was known for having overcome blindness to pursue a very successful career.  Here is Oi on


Oi had wingnut tendencies. And his work on ending the draft was profoundly anti-American. He was interned as a child with his family during World War II, and I suspect his work on ending the draft was driven by his anti-American animus and desire for revenge for his internment. He was blind, not only literally but metaphorically as well. Blind with hatred and bitterness towards the United States of America.

This is deeply disturbed comment, on a number of levels. I really hope Professor DeLong's name has been misappropriated by a troll.

Who cares what Oi's motives were? What matters are the quality and soundness of his arguments

Who cares what Oi’s motives were? What matters are the quality and soundness of his arguments

Not sure he is going to do so well on that measure:

"In his contribution to the The Costs and Implications of an All-Volunteer Force (1967) (of which he was also editor) Oi outlined the different calculations required to differentiate between the budgetary cost of military personnel and the economic cost to the nation of conscription. He identified the hidden costs of drafted force as the impact on the mental well being of those drafted. Oi estimated the loss in monetary terms of this effect to be between $826 million and $1,134 billion"

So he made some random number up based on a guess of the mental health impact of serving your country.

Not exactly impressive as arguments go.

If a few years as a conscript are good, a lifetime must be better. That's yet another thing the tsars were right about.

So Much for Subtlety: I'm curious. Did you really manage to misread Oi's paper this thoroughly, or did you just not bother to look at it before criticising your own wild-ass guess of what might be in there?

FC, you may have a case. But it depends on what you mean by good. The French have always argued that conscription is necessary for the National Army to be national - and democratic. Long serving standing Armies have been butresses of autocratic regimes for a long time.

Now you can think that is a good thing or a bad thing, but you have to explain why.

After all, it is a strange case - liberal professors got together with hawkish people in the government because they had a problem with the public objecting to a war in Vietnam. The Hawks wanted *less* democratic over sight and control. They wanted to fight wars without the American public knowing or caring. They got their way. But it is an unusual thing for liberal economists to be supporting.

Steven, I may have done both. Who knows? But it is not my own wild assed guess of anything. It was a quote from Wikipedia. Now that may be wrong. It may be right. But it is up to you to show why it is wrong. Not merely to engage in some cheap personal smear.

However, even if Wikipedia is wrong, it simply proves my point - the fact that his argument is so commonly misrepresented shows the problems his reputation has.

So much for subtlety, let me see if i understand what you are saying here. You looked at Walter Oi's wikipedia entry and found a quote that purports to summarize his findings that were instrumental in ending conscription. The wikipedia entry reports his estimate of the costs of the draft. And based on this paragraph summarizing Oi's research, you characterize it as a made up random number, and then tell Landsberg that it is up to him to show that your "conclusion" is inaccurate? Where do I have that wrong?

So Much for Subtlety: I'm very glad to hear that you've developed an antipathy for cheap personal smears. You've come a long way since the days when you were able to write "So he made some random number up based on a guess of the mental health impact of serving your country."

This putative Brad DeLong comment is surprising. Once, for fun, I appropriated Paul Krugman's name on this blog and TC removed it, explaining it was misleading (in a private email), so if this comment stays does this mean it's the real Brad DeLong? Strange comment even if true.

As for ending the draft, didn't porn publisher Larry Flint rail on for years against the military draft? So I recall a few times when reading Hustler magazine (yes I read it not just look at the pictures! Playboy is better though for reading).

No, it's not me--there are a *lot* sick puppies that suck out there on the internet, and this is one of them.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that people have the time to clean up their comments sections completely--it's a hard and lengthy job...

I like the feature where MR highlights Tyler & Alex comments differently. Perhaps MR should hand out similar accounts to a few bloggers whose identities may be oft hijacked....

Since when is ending the draft anti-American? The draft is a form of slavery, so ending it was the right thing to do.

The history of the end of conscription in the US is interesting and not well-enough understood. I had heard of Milton Friedman's roll, but Henderson's article ( was really fascinating. If you told people today that in the late 60s, the draft debate had Ted Kennedy and Margaret Mead on one side, and Nixon and Donald Rumsfeld on the other, how many do you think would guess correctly who was for and who was against the draft?

I've got nothing against this guy Oi, but conscription helped turn a lot of weak pussies into men and is probably responsible for a huge number of modern success stories, both in terms of big successes and little successes. Nowadays the only people who join the military are superalpha thrill junkies who would be successful no matter what, stupid redneck patriotards who are too deluded to lean anything from the experience, and dumbass minorities (many of them actively harmful due to gang membership) and women who are basically collecting welfare checks to meet quotas. The weak pussies all go to college and become even weaker pussies, learn nothing about discipline or the real world, and become pathetic failures who go back to live with their parents and join Occupy Wall Street crybaby protests.

Where's the evidence that conscription was responsible for a "huge number of modern success stories"? That's a pretty dramatic claim.

Lots of Vietnam War conscripts had lots of problems after returning with drugs, alcoholism, suicide, PTSD, etc.

Lots of non-Vietnam-War-Conscripts from that generation are druggy/alky/mental fuckups too, let's be careful to tease out causation on both sides. I think cultural liberalism and deinstitutionalization and the breakdown of the nuclear family (which itself was a last-gasp concept) are obviously to blame for that.

Right, and lots of non-Vietnam-War-conscripts were/are successful too.

I doubt there is any evidence whatsoever that significant numbers of Vietnam War veterans had problems with drugs, alcoholism or suicide. PTSD may be the exception because it appears to be a cultural expectation - that is, the disease does not exist as much. But Leftist medical professionals were so sure that veterans would display signs of being traumatised by the war that they invented the syndrome. And for a variety of reasons, veterans then began displaying the symptoms.

Even Walter Oi pointed out that former conscripts earned on average 2.5% more than non-conscripts. He did not take that as evidence that serving is character building. But someone else might.

Yes, but is there any evidence that Vietnam War conscription was responsible for a “huge number of modern success stories”?

I do recall, in support of Mike's provocative post, that a large number of CEOs were military men. Whether this is greater than the statistical average you would expect is another matter, but my gut is that being in the military and doing well helps you land a good civilian leadership job, though there maybe some self-selection at work.

But you would have to balance that out against the reduced welfare of people who didn't do well and leave the military with few marketable skills and little experience in the civilian economy (though I suppose the GI Bill/Yellow Ribbon mitigate this). How many of these people are there?

Put another way, I wonder what the opportunity cost of military service is in career terms, especially for lower-middle class soldiers.

Given the likely age distribution of CEOs what's the chance they were born in decades of conscription? Perhaps a large number of drivers & plumbers of that generation were also military men?

Uh, conscription also got a lot of men BLOWN TO BITS. How many of those would have been successful?

I have difficulty believing that Brad DeLong actually wrote that comment, breath-taking in its ignorance and insensitivity.

I hope the real Brad DeLong will disown it promptly

While I have my doubts that is really DeLong commenting, it most certainly isn't out of character for him to do so in such a way.

Unlikely that DeLong thinks that opposing the draft is unpatriotic.

Yes, that was the part of the comment that was jarring.

Carefully done research by Joshua Angrist reveals that draftees experienced steep wage penalties until middle age when their wages finally converged, Such results vindicate the position of Oi, Friedman, and the other supporters of an All Volunteer Army. And there is some evidence of positive wages for men that self-select into the military.

I don't think mental health is the proper measure of the difference between an AVF and a conscript army. At the time, this was probably the best measure Oi could come up with.

I served in the Army a few years after Vietnam, and we still had a lot of crusty old veterans for comparison. I think most people who served would not trade the AVF for anything. No one wants to serve next to people who aren't also volunteers. Even if you hate the service after you are in, comraderie with your buddies goes a long way toward making it bearable.

I think every war has a large cost in PTSD, not just those from conscript armies.

The biggest test of the AVF was last decade's wars. If we were ever going to fail to recruit sufficient numbers, that would have been when we would see it. The military only had trouble with recruiting goals when it raised its goals to flesh out a new brigade combat team organizational structure.

Autocrats like conscripts because they are cheap.

Walter never let bitterness influence him, not about his internment or his blindness. We will remember his kindness, generosity and sense of humor.

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