Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Changes at Boot Camp;
Compensating Variations

Not surprisingly, in a market economy if working conditions are undesirable, people will insist on being paid more to work at a given job. The employer faces a constant trade-off, adjusting the wage rate and the working conditions, maximizing across both variables at the same time. And if the employer wishes to attract more workers at a given wage, the employer must give serious consideration to improving the working conditions.

Changes at boot camp in the U.S. Army provide an excellent example [thanks to JohnH for the pointer; registration required]:

According to their detailed manual, drill sergeants may address recruits only as "soldier" or "private," or by surname. With few exceptions, they must ask before touching a recruit; the use of extra pushups as a "corrective action" remains common, but with limits. At the end of their nine weeks of initial basic training, recruits can discuss any complaints with the commander, whether about the food, the homework or the drills, in "sensing sessions."
Lawsuits have probably contributed to the reduced hazing of recruits, but those changes could very well be endogenous to the economic changes.

Back in the mid 1960s, I worked as a research assistant at Kansas State University on a project to measure how long it took young men's body temperature to rise by 2 degrees (F) under various high temperature and high humidity conditions. We used soldiers from Fort Riley as test subjects, but they were soon shipped out to Vietnam, and so we hired a busload of unemployed young men from a nearby town to finish the tests.

The results were vastly different. The times for body temperatures to increase were much greater with the unemployed youth; soldiers' body temperatures rose much more quickly, ceteris paribus.

We assumed the unemployed youth were goofing off, were different somehow, whatever. So we stopped using them and recruited students to be test subjects. Surprise: the students' physical responses were pretty much the same as the responses of the unemployed youth.

We surmised that the rigours of basic training were actually making the soldiers worse off, such that their body temperatures rose much faster than did the body temperatures of other young men when subjected to similar high temperature and high humidity environments.

Pretty poor conditioning for guys shipping out to Vietnam.
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