Rangel: Seize wealth because rich don't fight for our country, or something

Sounds like something out of Starship Troopers, doesn’t it?  According to Charlie Rangel, the US should seize wealth and redistribute it because, er, only poor people have been fighting the wars over the last ten years:

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) on Wednesday called for the redistribution of America’s riches and hammered the wealthy for benefitting from a war effort fought by the poor and middle class. …

Rangel offered no specific remedy for adjusting those figures during his comments on the House floor, but argued further that the wealthiest one percent have the added benefit of not needing to get involved in military service.

“Why is it that we know, or that we can suspect, that in this war where we lost so many lives, that so many people have been wounded, that our brave men and women coming home will subject themselves with a lack of funds to deal with their physical or mental problems?” he asked. “Any yet we somehow know that that 1 percent was not involved in defending our great nation.”

“We can almost know without any investigation that the wealthiest of Americans never found themselves protecting our flag,” he added.

Well, we can “know” a lot of things without any investigation, and apparently Rangel is the Dean of the No-Research Assumptions School of Political Rhetoric. Even aside from that, though, is this strange accusation in a nation with an all-volunteer military.  No one gets drafted into service, since the draft ended decades ago.  The people fighting this war have all volunteered for service — and most of those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq volunteered after the wars had already begun.

A funny thing happens when one really does start investigating the question, though.  As it turns out, the poor were actually underrepresented in enlistments, as a 2006 Heritage Foundation study determined:

Indeed, in many criteria, each year shows advancement, not decline, in measurable qualities of new enlistees. For example, it is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pentagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005.

This report updates the previous Heritage Foundation report, with data on all U.S. recruits during 2004 and 2005. We introduce the term “wartime recruits” to identify volunteer enlistees in all branches during 2003, 2004, and 2005. …

In summary, the additional years of recruit data (2004-2005) support the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight differences are that wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on average than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percentage of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distribution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.

The charts on the website are non-functional, but the PDF of the full report is still available.  This is the clearest demonstration of Heritage’s findings, where positive numbers show enlistments from zip codes in various average-income brackets exceeding the distribution of the general American population:

Heritage Foundation, enlistment, class warfare

As can be seen in this graph, it’s the lower-income areas that are underrespresented in the volunteer forces, by wide margins.  The middle class is significantly overrepresented.  The distribution among those making more than $100K a year is also off, but by about 0.2% difference from the normal population distribution.  Once you get above the $70K per year mark, the ration of distribution of enlistees to the general population is almost equal.

In case Rangel tries to play the race card, Heritage has data on that as well:

According to the 2004 Census ACS, 75.6 percent of the national adult population self-identifies as belonging to the racial category white alone. In both 2004 and 2005, 73.1 percent of recruits were classified as white alone. This indicates a recruit-to-population ratio of 0.97, with 1.00 indicating an exact proportional representation. (See Table 4.)  Whites are the most proportionally represented racial group among recruits. Excluding the group of a combination of two or more races, minority representation varies between being moderately proportional to extremely disproportional. The most overrepresented group is Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, with a ratio of 7.49 in 2005, or an overrepresentation of 649 percent. The Asian category is the most underrepresented group, with a ratio of 0.69 in 2005.

Similar ratios appear in the proportional representation of racial groups among Army recruits in both 2004 and 2005, with the exception that blacks are more proportionally represented among 2005 Army recruits than they are in the total recruit population. The change in proportional representation of blacks among military recruits is a notable change from the 2003 cohort to the 2004 and 2005 cohorts. In the last three quarters of the 2003 recruit year, blacks were largely overrepresented, with a recruit-to-population ratio of 1.32 among all recruits and 1.44 among Army recruits. For 2004, these ratios were 1.19 and 1.17, respectively. In 2005, they were 1.07 and 0.96, respectively, which indicates that in the past two years of military recruits, the proportion of blacks in the military approached the proportion of blacks in the population.

This is just another form of class warfare, of course, a way for Rangel to demonize the wealthy by attacking their patriotism.  As with most such demagogic efforts, it turns out to be a dud once it’s tossed.  Perhaps instead of loudly celebrating his ignorance, Rangel would be better served by actually checking his assumptions before proclaiming them as fact.  Or better yet, maybe he should just retire.