Someone who clearly doesn’t know me very well sent me this meme. Apparently, it is from one of our many cognitively challenged politicians suggesting that the unemployed should all go into the armed forces. Whilst, it is a profoundly stupid idea as we will see in a minute it will no doubt play well with those parts of Australia where teeth, IQ points and sexual partners who are not related to you are in short supply.
Despite this it is an incredibly instructive piece about the power of a simple phrase which is merely a short narrative and the need to actually think. The meme seems to in a clear manner solve several assumed problems.
Unemployed youth are a problem.
It assumes that unemployed youth are a problem themselves as a matter of character.
The military can fix these problems because the military fixes character flaws.
Unemployed youth will be better when they come out of the armed forces.
It will save us money because they won’t have to be paid unemployment benefits.
You will also note that like all strong simple narratives it contains an element of bias. It assumes that there is something wrong with the group being referred to and they can be fixed quite easily. It is at this point that most people stop thinking and fail to consider the implications of what they have read.
To look at the reality of dumping all the unemployed youth into the armed forces I have done a bit of dodgy back of the envelope number crunching. Currently the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) personnel number 57,982 – a relatively small but professional organisation. The current budget for the ADF is $34.2B. Both these numbers are important since the form the basis for my broad brush guesswork. As best as I could tell from the labyrinthine government statistics there are about 300,000 unemployed youths between the ages of 16 and 24, which also neatly is just on the lower limit for selection. I couldn’t readily find a better breakdown so I am going to assume that this is our effective population available for service.
In the first of my really sweeping generalisations I am going to assume that we dump all 300,000 into the ADF, so the size of the ADF goes from 57,982 to 357,982. It is here that our brilliant slogan begins to run into trouble because you have to feed, cloth, house and train this suddenly resurgent military lest you have 300,000 bored bastards sitting in a field outside Puckapunyal looking for rocks to paint.
If we assume continuity in levels of training and equipment then the ADF’s budget is going to have to go through the roof. If it costs us $34.2B to have a military of 57,982 then I going to assume that to expand the military almost five fold then we will have to expand the military budget fivefold. All of a sudden the ADFs budget goes from $34.2B to $171B (I have assumed folding in the current expenditure).
This number needs to be put into context. It would mean we have the third largest military budget in the world behind the US and China. It would be about 7% of our GDP and about $68,000 per person – giving us the most expensive military in the world based upon GDP and per head expenditure.
So how much does this save us?
Apparently the most expensive part of the unemployment/welfare miasma is the Newstart allowance which approximately $10B per year which is shared among 858,373 recipients. Again assuming a simple pro rata breakdown our 300,000 unemployed youths cost us $3.5B per year. Therefore the brilliant decision to lob everyone into the ADF costs us $167.5B per year ($171B – $3.5B)
I accept that my dodgy figures are probably off by miles but it still easily shows what an incredibly stupid idea it is. Even if I am off by an order of magnitude it is still stupid but more importantly it was easily shown to be stupid with little more than a pencil and a piece of paper. Consider this in the context of your own trading, most of the things you hear are stupid and can be shown to be so with a little bit of critical thinking. But is it is this critical thinking bit of the equation that lets people down, we are primed for simplistic explanations and slogans. Thinking is a metabolic and emotional cost because what you find out may run counter to what you believe to be true and nobody wants that to happen.