Freedom is Not Free – Implications of the Ryan-Murray Budget Deal


By Chad Pillai.

The recent Ryan-Murray budget agreement which the House passed and the Senate is likely to follow suit has opened Pandora’s Box with a proposal that will cut 1% from current and future veterans’ retirement packages. While the number may seem insignificant, it opens the door for future changes to promises made to veterans and current service members for services rendered to the nation. Veterans and service members are now being punished as a result of the failures of politicians in Congress for their inability to address the real cause of our fiscal challenges: skyrocketing healthcare costs, interest payments on the national debt, and necessary acquisition and institutional reforms needed within the Department of Defense.

When the nation chose to adopt the All-Volunteer Force as a replacement of the Draft Force, it made a conscious decision to make a contract with the young men and women to care for them and their families. In return for those benefits, those very same young people agreed to pay the nation back with a check equal to or greater than the value of their life. Now the nation is debating whether that contract needs to be renewed. As a result, veterans and current service members’ faith in their national leaders and fellow citizens for whom they sacrificed so much to uphold their end of the bargain is being questioned.

The unfortunate truth about this proposal is the continued disconnect between the nation and its military and public safety professionals. Too often, the discussion regarding their pensions is viewed from an economic efficiency perspective and equating their service to any other profession. This is far from the truth. National defense and public safety are not elements that are freely traded on the free market since they are inherent functions for a state to perform. National Defense and public safety guarantees the reality of the free market and the cost associated with such service cannot be calculated the same way. In fact, the free market cannot provide this kind of service to the inherent nature of the risk to the nation and no nation that has attempted to outsource its security has survived for long.

The single biggest discriminator between security and safety professions (military, law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and intelligence operatives) and all other professions in the free market is the level of physical danger implied with the job. These professionals willfully accept the demands of the job, to include sacrificing one’s life, for the greater good of their community and/or nation and in return ask for fair compensation in retirement. No other professionals are asked to spend long periods of time away from their families on a routine basis, endure living in sub-standard conditions, and face the very real possibility of being maimed or killed as a result of doing their duty. While other professions may have some elements described previously, they have one thing many in the security and safety professions do not – a choice to opt out. This is especially true for members of the military who cannot opt out of combat deployments if they are given lawful orders.

The nation needs to decide how it wants its security provided by accepting one of three poisons. First, continue to pay for an All-Volunteer Military, Law Enforcement, and Public Safety Corps of professionals. Secondly, adopt a draft system that calls for the nation’s sons and daughters to provide for the common defense. Finally, attempt to contract out your security to private enterprises that will put profit ahead of national interests. At a time when less than 1% of the nation has served in a time of war and another 1-2% provides for the common defense at home, the least the rest of the population can do is accept the cost associated with the freedom they are being provided – at a price the free market cannot offer them. Whichever option they choose from the three listed above, they better make sure they pick their poison carefully since nothing is free.

The true nature of the national security and public safety professionals can be summed up by the images of 9/11. There were the few (law enforcement, fire fighters, and emergency personnel) who ran towards the burning buildings to save others while everyone else ran the opposite direction. There is no market price you can put on the expectation of bravery and self sacrifice for others comparable in the private sector or any other part of the public sector. Since 9/11 the few accepted the hardships of service and risked life and limb while the majority of the nation received tax cuts and were encouraged to shop.


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