ZEW - Centre for European Economic Research

05/15/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/15/2024 01:43

Economist Friedrich Heinemann on the Debate over the Return to Compulsory Service // “Mandatory Service Would Exacerbate Labour Shortages”

"Mandatory Service Would Exacerbate Labour Shortages"

At its 36th party conference, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has voted against suspending conscription and opted for a gradual transition to a one-year mandatory community service. Friedrich Heinemann, head of the "Corporate Taxation and Public Finance" Unit at ZEW Mannheim and professor at Heidelberg University, comments on the debate surrounding the return to compulsory service:

"At first glance, compulsory service - whether in the military or in the social sector - seems plausible. The Bundeswehr and the care sector suffer from staff shortages, and many young people would acquire important skills during such service and contribute to the common good. A win-win situation, one might think. However, labour market and financial policy implications have hardly been considered in this debate.

The argument that mandatory service saves costs or effectively addresses the growing shortage of personnel in critical infrastructures is not convincing. In fact, a one-year compulsory community service would even exacerbate the shortage of qualified workers in the economy as a whole. Introducing such mandatory service would delay the entry into the labour market of an entire cohort of school leavers by one year. Young men and women would start their training or studies later. At a time when the age cohorts are already shrinking and companies are complaining about a lack of applicants, this would be counterproductive.

During the compulsory year, young people would inevitably perform the work of unskilled workers. More than a crash course is not feasible within just one year, leaving little time for performing professional work. This would serve neither the Bundeswehr, with its demanding tasks, nor the social sector, with tasks that go beyond menial work. This significant shift from skilled to unskilled work would destroy value creation and further diminish Germany's growth potential.

At its core, the call for mandatory service also reveals a lack of respect for qualifications in the affected sectors. There is a misconception that people can be quickly trained as soldiers, caregivers, or educators. None of this corresponds to the reality of these professions."