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Sunday, June 07, 2009

DEMOBILISING MILLIONS - LESSONS FROM THE GI BILL

During WW2, seeing that they were going to be faced millions of soldiers being demobilised the US passed the GI Bill.

Officially known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was designed to provide greater opportunities to returning war veterans of World War II. The bill, signed by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, provided federal aid to help veterans adjust to civilian life in the areas of hospitalization, purchase of homes and businesses, and especially, education. This act provided tuition, subsistence, books and supplies, equipment, and counseling services for veterans to continue their education in school or college. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act included the following:

1. The Federal Government would subsidize tuition, fees, books, and educational materials for veterans and contribute to living expenses incurred while attending college or other approved institutions.

2. Veterans were free to attend the educational institution of their choice.

3. Colleges were free to admit those veterans who met their admissions requirements.

Within the following 7 years, approximately 8 million veterans received educational benefits. Of that number, approximately 2,300,000 attended colleges and universities, 3,500,000 received school training, and 3,400,000 received on-the-job training. By 1951, this act had cost the government a total cost of approximately $14 billion.

The effects of increased enrollment to higher education were significant. Higher educational opportunities opened enrollment to a varied socioeconomic group than in the years past. Engineers and technicians needed for the technological economy were prepared from the ranks of returning veterans. Also, education served as a social safety valve that eased the traumas and tensions of adjustment from wartime to peace.


It is widely accepted that this played a major part in America's post war growth.

And contrary to most expectations, the grade-point averages at most colleges went up with the influx of veterans, and dropout rates went way down. Professors at the time said that the veterans were the most serious and disciplined students they'd ever seen. The cost to taxpayers for the GI Bill was about $5.5 billion, but the result was 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, 17,000 writers and editors, and thousands of other professionals. It helped spur one of the greatest economic booms in American history.

There is a counter argument that this money allowed government politicisation of universities. However so long as (A) the decision of what to study is the individual's & (B) it is a limited time programme I do not think this matches the clear advantages to the programme. It is also important that experience that while there is not a correlation between education & GNP there is a single exception, namely that tertiary education spending on adult males is associated with higher growth (pdf p38), & adult male education was precisely the area affected. I assume that this is an effect of adult males having been highly incentivised to study & to study something that will give them a living. In modern developed countries where female employment is high the effect should not be limited to males but in most of the world & for most times, where work has been highly physical, it will have been.

The reason I am doing this article is that it strikes me that if, to run our economy successfully it is necessary to substantially cut British government & spending, which it is, then we are going to have to "demobilise" a lot of civil servants. Not only out of niceness but also to minimise unrest & to maximise turning them into productive workers a Civil Service Person's Readjustment Act on very much the same terms would be extremely desirable.

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