NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 5, 2004

The main determinant of a country's use of a military draft is whether its legal system is modeled on French statute law or the British common-law structure, say economists Casey Mulligan and Andrei Shleifer.

The French system, introduced under Napoleon and derived from Roman law, relies on statutes, comprehensive codes and detailed input from legal scholars. In contrast, the British system focuses more on decentralized dispute resolution by judges, legal precedent and voluntary contracts.

Out of a sample of 164 countries, the authors found:

  • In 1996, 42 percent of all countries examined had no draft, including 81 percent of countries with British legal systems.
  • Among the countries with a draft, the ones of British legal-origin tended to have non-preferential systems, while those of French legal-origin had complicated systems with exemptions for students.

Mulligan and Shleifer say the reason French-style statute-law countries are much more likely to use the military draft is because they have already established a large state administration for regulation. Given this apparatus, administering conscription is relatively easy because the draft is, in effect, just another form of regulation.

Source: Robert J. Barro, "Uncle Sam Wants You, But the Draft is History," BusinessWeek, July 26, 2004; and Casey Mulliga and Andrei Shleifer, "Conscription as Regulation," NBER Working Paper No. W10558, June 2004, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER paper


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