Hudson Institute chief economist Kane proposes the use of market-based methods to reform the military's personnel and pay policies.
The author, a former officer in the U.S. Air Force, argues that the military is losing talent from the officer corps. The institutional structure legislated into effect beginning in the late 1970s has morphed into an unwieldy and counterproductive system that is increasingly abandoned by a number of junior officers. Kane is raising a warning flag about the future quality of the officer corps and the future of the military itself. For him, the problem is located in the promotion system, which is based on seniority, not merit, and “leads to a less competent general-officer corps.” Promotion from the junior-officer level is tied to service, and at each level of advance, the percentage of officers who can move up to the next grade is fixed by law. In the author's view, the ensuing problem is compounded by pension qualifications. Kane advocates a merit-based, entrepreneurial alternative driven by market considerations, and he draws from conservative economists such as Friedrich Hayek to support his case. He favors introducing competition over assignments and requirements and putting control in the hands of the unit commanders, who intimately know their needs. Kane discusses what his ideas of “entrepreneurial” officers would look like, referencing George Washington, George Marshall and Gen. Eisenhower as examples. The author also calls for junior officers to be able to leave service and return later without losing pension rights.
National-budget stringencies will no doubt amplify this intriguing discussion.