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Our Command Economy Communist Military

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify before these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist/liberal/progressive/what have you.)

When I finally looked through my things after I returned to Italy from Afghanistan, I found that my PT jacket had disappeared. I had to bring it to Afghanistan, I never had to wear it, and I had to bring it home. Somewhere in the middle of central Asia, though, it disappeared, probably stolen by the Afghan version of “The Borrowers”.

As a wealthy First Lieutenant, I knew the problem had an easy solution: I’d go to my local Military Clothing and Sales store to buy a new one. As soon as temperatures plummeted (relatively for a Californian) in Vicenza, Italy, I headed to the store.

I walked into Vicenza’s smallish Military Clothing and Sales, I saw the long rack of PT jackets...mostly empty. Apparently I wasn’t the only soldier who wanted to buy a new PT jacket. They had extra smalls or double X-Ls, but nothing in between.

So I asked the worker at the counter, “Do you guys have any large or medium jackets left?”

“Nope,” she replied, “We ran out of them about two days ago.”

“Why didn’t you buy more?”

“We didn’t know it was going to get cold, and we only order new ones when we run out of something.”

“You didn’t know that it was going to get cold in October?”

The same thing happened to me when I was in Fort Huachuca. Between loading and unpacking my household goods, from Italy to Arizona, my PT pants disappeared. So I again headed to the Military Clothing and Sales. This time, the MCS didn’t even have XX-Ls. (If you have been to the home of Military Intelligence, you will know that they are not a base of soldiers who wear size small.)

In each case, when I was at a generally smaller post, the only option for soldiers to buy clothes--the Military Clothing and Sales store, a local monopoly--utterly failed in ways most other stores don’t. Can you imagine walking into Target or Walmart in October and not finding a single jacket or sweatshirt?

Of course not. But there is a simple reason that Walmart and Target don’t fail: competition. Decades of competition have made those stores more responsive to consumers, able to offer lower prices and keep their logistics chains short yet cost efficient.

Without competition forcing Military Clothing and Sales (and the Commissary system, and countless other support functions) to modernize, everything happens at a snails pace. This all makes sense according to the principles of the free-market and capitalism. The Military Clothing and Sales represents everything conservatives hate about big government. It is basically a command economy, a government controlled economy. And it doesn’t work as well as the free-market.

Many conservative readers have been put off by this series, because they think we’re arguing for big government. We’ve been called “liberals” as if that should offend us. (Eric C wears that label as a point of pride. Hillary 2016!) Reread the paragraph above. Does that sound like the writings of a socialist?

Of course not. But the moment someone recommends cutting even the smallest benefit for soldiers (like Commissary funding), pro-military types pounce on them as hurting the troops. Anyone who voted to increase Tricare co-pays for the first time in 20 years was labeled as “anti-troop”. So military supporters who love the free-market consistently support monopolistic government ventures.

This series wants to take a middle ground and point out what the government does well, but also where it doesn’t. This article is an example of the military not working well.

In the end, I bought a PT jacket online and just had it shipped to Italy.

three comments

You’ve hit upon my pet peeve on military installations. Whenever I’m given the option between buying things online/off-post and at AAFES/DECA/MCSS, I always turn to the private sector. Only when I was stationed in Germany did I find myself relying on DECA/AAFES, and I hated myself because of it. I would be amazed if the local commissary on our base was open more than 40 hours in an average work week…and it was generally open during normal work hours. Not good if you’re an O/C, working night shifts.

Our local shoppette carried nothing but low-grade American beer…in the middle of Bavaria. You could walk outside the main gate of the base and find better beer than what they were selling, but AAFES knows it keeps Joe coming back.

I’m waiting in eager anticipation for your post on TRICARE. Much like the commissary, I’d be surprised if our local clinic averaged 40 hours of work in a week…and they only stay open during normal work/school hours.

I went to USAA Bank recently, and was very astounded at their health care. The entire USAA campus encourages healthy living…running tracks, gyms, nothing but healthy foods in the cafeteria, etc. Employees are offered financial incentives for healthy living. Contrast with TRICARE and base living, where healthy food can often be difficult to find, DFACs offer burgers, fast food is abundant, cigarettes and chewing tobacco are aplenty in the shoppette, and there’s no incentive for military retirees to stay healthy…despite very low TRICARE fees.

But to your last paragraph, taking any of that away makes it sound like you hate the troops. Look at the brouhaha surrounding shutting down Applebees in Afghanistan.

The Tricare post is a bit away because we need a unique take on it. I never really had to interact with TRICARE more than check ups. It seems people who have to do more than that really hate the system. Do you want to write us a guest post on it?

The other day, I was standing in yet another ponderously long line at AAFES, and noticing that many of the base support functions are overrun with retirees (the commissary in particular).

I’m of the opinion that many (though not all) of our current budget woes are attributable to ageism (people living longer and retiring at the same age…more retirees being supported by fewer workers)…just look at Europe these days.

The military’s budget seems to be a microcosm of this effect…look at the out-of-control TRICARE fees (especially TRICARE for life…retirees) and the pension crisis (which is crippling state governments)