Murphy's Law: The Ultimate Motivator


May 19, 2016: Since the Cold War ended the American military, especially the U.S. Army, has gone through a lot of changes, many of them unexpected. One that was not a surprise (like the war that began on September 11, 2001) has been the rank inflation. That is the growing proportion of officers and higher ranking NCOs. Thus in 1985 the U.S. Army had 59 generals per 100,000 enlisted troops, 4,930 mid-rank officers (O-4, O-5, O-6) per 100,000 enlisted and 11,500 lower ranking officers per 100,000. By 2015 this had increased to 81 generals per 100,000, 7,600 mid-rank officers and 16,500 lower ranking officers per 100,000 enlisted. NCOs (sergeants) showed a similar shift with 12,200 senior NCOs (E-7, E-8, E-9) per 100,000 lower ranking (E-1 to E-6) troops in 1985 to 15,200 senior NCOs in 2015.

In some nations this would be a sign of corruption but in most modern armed forces it represents one cost of so much more technology and the need for more highly trained officers and troops to make the stuff work and keep it operational. For various reasons (mainly tradition and politics) most nations refuse to pay officers and troops possessing the needed skills competitive wages. A way around that is to promote more officers to higher ranks, and make more jobs that were previously held by enlisted personnel into officer jobs. This has always been the case in the United States, where there were 11 enlisted personnel for every officer during World War II while today it’s about half that (5.5 enlisted per officer). The number of generals per 100,000 troops went from 17 in World War II to over 80 today. This is a trend that has been going on in the West since the 19th century.

Over the last half century there have been some officer promotions were for morale purposes, but it was mainly a matter of making the “compensation package” attractive enough to get the people you needed. That often did not work, especially for those with very scarce skills. As a result the United States found itself offering higher high bonuses for each additional year someone (officer or enlisted) agreed to sign up for. This has been up to $25,000 per additional year and will go higher as more scarce skills are needed. This kept thousands of medical, electronics and special operations personnel in uniform. Cash, it turns out, works better than more rank.




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