Incentivizing Military Service

I asked my Turkish teaching assistant, a first-year Ph.D. student, what he’s doing about compulsory military service. To simplify, he is only liable for six months of service as a university graduate, instead of the usual one year; and if he stays here for three years or more, he can further delay service. When he, or anyone else who lived abroad for three years or more, returns to Turkey, he only has to serve one month as long as he pays the government $7000! Even ignoring the possible disutility of serving the five extra months, all he needs to do is earn $1400/month when he returns to make paying this indemnity worthwhile.

Is this system equitable? Probably not. Does it give the right incentives-steer people into the best uses of their time? Probably. It also avoids discouraging Turks from returning home. But it does create some strange incentives; the lower requirement for university grads has created a tremendous demand for online university degrees. The Turkish equivalents of the University of Phoenix are thriving!

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COMMENTS: 26


  1. Eric M. Jones says:

    You have to ask the obvious question: Should societies discourage smart people to avoid the draft so that the less intelligent can be put into harms way?

    I opine that the draft should take everybody equally. Perhaps then we can end this war madness.

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  2. MRB says:

    Your math only makes sense if your assistant can afford to pay AN ADDITIONAL 1400 Euro’s a month. That’s more than $1,800 US dollars a month, plus the regular living amount. To put things in perspective, fresh out of grad school, I take home (after taxes) about $2,300 a month; of which at least half goes to living expenses, and I have what is considered a good job.

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  3. Eric M. Jones says:

    …you know what I mean. Need more coffee.

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  4. Richard May says:

    Presumably there are cost benefits to serving rather than not – food, accomodation- that should be taken into account for that figure.

    So $1400 + additional costs of not serving – disutility of serving a month.

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  5. Kamal says:

    Wonder if online universities in Turkey advertise delayed military service as a reason to enroll. Additionally, the price of tuition should probably fall or rise to the cost of a month of service…

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  6. Ezel KARA says:

    there are some misinformation in the article. the fee is not 7000 euros but something around $7000.

    also,I don’t think that the system discourages you returning home. once you live abroad for 3 years and then pay USD 7000, then you have the right to serve for 3 weeks only (not one month as mentioned in the article) and then you dont need to live abroad anymore.

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  7. Christopher Browne says:

    I find it mighty interesting that the “price for service avoidance” is 1400 euros/month, for university graduates, and about 650 euros/month for others, as opposed to values either much higher or much lower.

    I’ll note MRB mayn’t quite be counting it right; those doing this don’t need to earn an extra 1400 euros per month (or 636, sans degree); it is more realistic to divide the 7000 euros across the at-least-36 months spent away, so the cost is likely to look more like 194 euros/month.

    In any case, the issue isn’t about what grad students might earn – it’s about how unattractive 5/11 months of military service are. If Turks are flocking to this, in droves, then there are two interesting conclusions:

    1. Turkish military service must be reasonably unpleasant, thereby making it seem worthwhile to spend the sums described to avoid it.

    2. The sums being collected seem likely to be “economically efficient,” in that it seems pretty reasonable to expect that if the Turkish government charged much more, fewer would make use of this policy.

    Very, very interesting.

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  8. Raymond says:

    Does this apply to both men and women?

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  9. AaronS says:

    I have long wondered why the United States doesn’t permit “civilians” to serve in the “back offices” of the Army. I mean, why do you have to with certain weight, height, and age guidelines in order to cook dinner for the troops, or run a computer database?

    I would LOVE to serve in the military, but am now too old, to big, to slow to every hope to meet the physical requirements. But I can guarantee you that I’m smart enough to do most of the non-combat jobs, and probably plenty of the combat tasks. I mean, figuring the trajectory of artillery rounds requires more mental prowess than physical skills.

    OK, that said, my POINT is that our current economy is a GREAT INCENTIVE for many people to join the military. No, most wouldn’t want to go to the front lines, but they could help our country by serving in plenty of other capacities that do not require having to carry a rifle. Besides, when it comes right down to an emergency situation, I imagine most of us can point and fire pretty effectively.

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  10. Mickey says:

    “Even ignoring the possible disutility of serving the five extra months, all he needs to do is earn $1400/month when he returns to make paying this indemnity worthwhile.”

    Thats likes saying all i need to do is earny $x/month while working to make any level of US taxes worthwhile. The requirement that all citizens participate in the armed forces, then exempting citizens if they pay in no way makes it ‘worthwhile’

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  11. CL says:

    Gotta consider the long-term payoff, not just short-term accounting. The longer one studies overseas, the more valuable that person is perceived to be to the success of society. An overseas education exposes one to ideas outside the culture, and expand the discussion about what might be beneficial for a society. And those who can get a good job and afford the buy out are contributing to social stability and to the GNP. On the other hand, those who can’t hack it academically are throw-aways and worker bees, and end up in harm’s way. Sounds like there are countries that actually value an educated populace.

    One of my Korean students was not particularly gifted academically, but was absolutely committed to completing a graduate degree that he would finish after age 24. At 24 he would be excused completely from military service in the DMZ.

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  12. Eric M. Jones says:

    During WWII in Japan, science and math majors were exempt from becoming kamikaze pilots. Everyone else was drafted.

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  13. m.onur says:

    acually parents in turkey , sent their children to military with honour and its like a tradition.

    fior abroad students and workers it changes because when you return to your country you are close to age of 30 and its hard to be in military because of physical condition. i think it is creating option for abroad citizens.

    thats my opinion

    m.onur

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  14. Lisa says:

    AaronS – The military does hire civilians. I used to be a civilian employee of the Navy. They hire civilians to do things like quality testing weapons before they are installed on ships, designing communications systems, ship design…

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  15. aaron says:

    He needs to make $1400 a month above his cost of living and any pay he’d receive for his service.

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  16. NonameLndn says:

    Interesting Example. When I mentioned this system to a friend of mine, who is a french nationalist, she strongly opposed (as a socialist), and said what about the people who have no money? In the meantime, a Korean friend of mine, who had to do his military service for 2 years – compulsory- found this system amazing as it gives you different options.

    Let’s have a look at this system;

    1- Being a university graduate in Turkey, is not that difficult, as there are both private and public schools, whether you are rich or poor. However,It’s a basic fact that, due to huge population,doing your dream degree in a dream university might be difficult but again, just to avoid 1 year military service you can basically enroll at any degree and do your service just for 6 months.

    2- Let’s say you finished your undergrad and you kept studying a postgraduate degree whether in Turkey or somewhere else, with this option, you can keep postpone your service until you reach 34 years old.(Again,there is a slight chance that you can still be exempted from military until you reach that age, as being a EU Candidate, Turkey’s been doing several reforms quite rapidly, whether its Army or constitution)

    3-Let’s say you have a dual citizenship, living somewhere else, or you have been appointed as an immigrant worker/profesional or even academic in another country, After having worked 3 years(full-time, holidays except), you can pay 7000 euros and do your military service for 20 days. There are also several ways to pay this amount, monthly, yearly or quarterly, to make it easy for the individuals.

    this all make sense so far isn’t it?

    well’ lets have a deeper look at the third section.

    As an immigrant worker, If you already worked in any country more than 3 years, you will be probably gain a citizenship in that country, most likely anyway. And having spending your youth, lets say mid twenties or early thirties, you would be most likely again establishing your life in that country and whether its an option or not, you wouldn’t want to change this again by moving back?(not to consider just to pay 7000 Euros!!)

    So basically, (without having data), Any Turkish individual who had a good educational background and highly skills who spent his mid twenties or early thirties in a foreign country, would most likely stay there and gain their citizenship instead of coming back to Turkey, as a strong skilled individual (with most probably having more than 2 foreign language skills as well).

    So overall, Is Turkey really creating strong/skilled individuals with this system and at the same time losing them to another countries? or do they come back to their homeland eventually? One wonders what the real data is.

    Many people might remember late 80s and early 90s, several German engineers and architects whoever involved in construction industry, immigrated to Australia and later United Kingdom(Blair times) due to the less Construction work in Germany and again to avoid compulsory military/social service duties.

    So are the compulsory military service regulations one of the factors behind Brain Drain?

    If it is, how about Swiss citizens? as we all know, Switzerland has one of the strongest and strict military regulations among other countries. But as it has been discussed many times, Swiss never avoid civic duties like voting or doing their military service and try not to immigrate or settle in another countries(even though they have right to work in many EU countries)

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  17. ipek says:

    Correction:

    New: When he, or anyone else who WORKED (not just “stayed”) abroad for three years or more, returns to Turkey, he only has to serve THREE WEEKS (not a month) as long as he pays the government $7000.

    You can pay the fee, 7000 euros, in upto 4 payments stretched over a time period as you choose. You just want to make sure that you pay the total 7000 euros before making a permanent move back to Turkey.

    This is a good option for people working abroad, because obviously most people would lose their jobs if they wanted to take off for 6 months for military service. So this way you keep your job, but pay money to the government in return for just being able to hold on to your job. Basically it’s as if you are doing a military service while working on your job for 5 months after you finish the 3 week military service. You are giving the money you earn at your job to the Turkish military.

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  18. GLK says:

    This subject is a pet peeve of mine. First of all, ask any old person like my 90 year old mom about what public High School was like in her era. You’ll find that the studious disciplines of yore were far, far more arduous that the ridiculously lax dumbed down system of today. And, how, pray tell did this happen? A little thing called the Vietnam war and the draft deferment our government offered to the kids that went to college. As a result college enrollment burgeoned and with it a new industry was born. Time was that corporate positions even at the executive level were filled by employees that came up through the ranks, but with each successive legion of college graduates (basically draft dodgers) the idea was formed that people without college degrees were somehow defective. Not surprisingly as a college education became mandatory for achieving any semblance of a decent job our High Schools declined precipitously until what we have now is a four year degree that equals what a High School education provided 30 years ago. And, also not surprisingly, since the majority of kids go to college nowadays the value of the four year degree has degenerated to that of the former High School diploma. Except, of course, in the old days a quality education was adequately paid for via tax dollars and now parent’s second mortgage their homes. Add to that the unique perception that somehow colleges make kids smarter, yet if you are my age, 53, and you have the opportunity to speak to and/or work with these allegedly enlightened souls it becomes quite obvious that stupid is as stupid does no matter the level of education. But the false perceptions and the industry that spawned them is here to stay so we must all play the game or be ostracized. But rest assured it’s all a game, as Ben Bernanke proved when he stated in his recent commencement speech to the graduating class at the University of South Carolina that “money isn’t everything.”

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  19. Nick says:

    “I have long wondered why the United States doesn’t permit “civilians” to serve in the “back offices” of the Army. I mean, why do you have to with certain weight, height, and age guidelines in order to cook dinner for the troops, or run a computer database?”

    Aaron, I would say that on any given Air Force base (and maybe the other branches too, I’ll just go with what I’m familiar with), about 25% of the base are civilians, including both much of the dining staff and the systems administrator positions. They’ll always have some military cooks because they can be forced to deploy somewhere awful, but for the most part the chow halls are staffed by civilians.

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  20. Eva says:

    Actually, many young people of Turkish decent living in Germany used to be reluctant to apply for Germany citizenship because that used to mean they would have to give up their Turkish citizenship (Germany now allows dual citizenship), thus making them ineligible for Turkish military service. From what I’ve read in the media, there is a huge sense of pride attached to serving in the military, especially for young people living abroad. Surely that is a factor.

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  21. Jack says:

    Haha, I literally just got back in from and ROTC field training exercise to read this. Very interesting.

    Also interesting how our own volunteer military incentivizes. Not only the recruiting incentives, but also social incentives to do well; airborne, ranger, aviation, special forces, all these things are hyped up so much that thousands go through rigorous training, a great cost of discomfort just to be one of the best and little explicit incentive.

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  22. J says:

    “I have long wondered why the United States doesn’t permit “civilians” to serve in the “back offices” of the Army”

    Wonder no more; they do. Please do not take this as some sort of snarky insult – it isn’t – but I’m curious where you live and what industry you make your living in.

    “Does it give the right incentives-steer people into the best uses of their time? Probably”

    I’m not so sure. It replicates the problem we have in this country, in which the majority of graduate degrees are masters degrees in education, diploma mill MBAs, or other fluff, obtained because the school system/government agency you work for will pay you more money or require it for advancement, no matter how useless or irrelevant the degree is. A lot of higher education is a collosal waste of time, either not imparting any useful knowledge, or jamming a six week training program into two years of school. The winds of change seem to be blowing though…

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  23. Ezel Kara says:

    Correction for the second time: It is NOT 7000 Euros, instead it is $7500 provided that you are below 38.

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  24. Sergey Shelukhin says:

    As a similar example you can look at Russia. People avoid compulsory service at all costs (personally I am “lucky” tohave bad eyesight); as one of the ways to delay or avoid it is going to university (service delayed while you study, and many universities have much easier and less demanding “military class” that makes you an officer and more or less exempts you from service at peace time) , probably more than half of the males in free public education are there mostly to avoid army. Heck, some people start working on PhD to avoid service, without any hope of completing it, and just languish there (doing enough to not get thrown out) until the end of draft age (27)

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  25. Marion says:

    Interesting subject. Please note, that at least in the olden days, the young Turkish guys who live outside Turkey, were just snatched up by the military when they went back on holidays. Being enrolled in education seems to prevent that, still Turkey is known in Germany for super strict military service.

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  26. Aline says:

    The sevrice here in turkey is 6 months for those who are graduated and 15 months (not one year) for those who doesn’t have any degree 5 I can talk about it…my fiance is serving right now and was sent to Afghanistan….).
    His family tried the other way by making him study abroad…to have 3 years residency out of Turkey, but, only residency is not enought, it should be a working permit + residency…so after 5 years in China with student visa, we understood that he can’t just pay 5000 $ to make 3 weeks…so we came back to Turkey…and he was enrolled for 15 months.

    Since there was a referendum here; for changing the constitution and the army power, the service is going to be 12 months for everybody…degree or not, starting in October..unfortunatly, they won’t bring my fiance back from Afghanistan, because he started the service before that new regulation….

    That’s life…
    I still think that military service is a good thing for young men…it helps them to learn what the words responability, duty…etc mean.

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