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Twenty Years of Service: The Politics of Military Pension Policy and the Long Road to Reform, Brandon J. Archuleta

Reviewed by Matthew Schmidt

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Brandon J. Archuleta’s Twenty Years of Service is a masterpiece of the organizational psychology genre. Would that there were one; our policy fights would be a lot more effective (if less exciting, perhaps) if we understood the subsystems theory that Archuleta applies to extreme effect in this book.

Subsystems, as he conceives them, are the “semi-autonomous” subunits of organizations. But unlike theorists who see these systems as an “Iron Triangle,” rigidly defensive of change, Archuleta argues, especially in his section on the World War I pension system, that they can be resilient through adaptation as well. This is essential to understanding his policy recommendations at the end.

Before Archuleta lands ashore of the present policy debates, he leads us through the dense labyrinth of the history of pension and compensation in the military. He sets the stage with a discussion of the tension in the system. Though the American system is laudable in that it continued to pay a death benefit to a Confederate widow until 2020, it has grown to the point of unsustainability. As the United States entered the wars of the 2000s, the per person cost for active-duty service members rose a whopping 46 percent. In addition, Archuleta paints anecdotes of the absurdity of military band compensation and the stark inequality of a s

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