Rethinking the Military-Industrial Complex
August 16, 2013
Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News
Major oil companies are top Pentagon suppliers, but selling fuel to the military is not why they try to control the world's oil and natural gas. Nor do most people have the oil companies in mind when they talk of the military-industrial complex. Wall Street and the CIA both exercise enormous influence on US foreign policy. The corporatists make gargantuan demands on government, and their shopping list provides the Magna Carta for the new corporate state.
(August 15, 2013) -- When President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned his fellow Americans about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, he did both good and bad. As a widely respected military leader, he made it possible for ordinary citizens to challenge the Pentagon's growing power in so many aspects of our economy and foreign policy. But, by focusing on the military, Ike misdirected our attention away from other, often more important segments of Big Money's collaboration with Big Government.
No question, the military chiefs, the manufacturers who supply and then often hire them, and the members of Congress who take political contributions from the armaments industry or look to lucrative careers as lobbyists for them all work together as a standing lobby for incredibly wasteful Pentagon budgets.
The same groups also support the endless fear-mongering, whether of the old Soviet Union and Red China, the newly capitalist Russians and Chinese, al Qaeda terrorists, or whatever other threat appears to justify massive spending and -- as we now see -- massive surveillance.
But let's get real. Most of us could make a good case that Big Oil exercises far more influence on our imperial foreign policy than do the Big Brass and their merchants of death. Major oil companies are top Pentagon suppliers, I know, but selling fuel to the military is not why they try to control the lion's share of the world's oil and natural gas. Nor do most people have the oil companies in mind when they talk of the military-industrial complex.
Ike's warning also takes our eye off Wall Street and the CIA, both of which exercise enormous influence on US foreign policy. And his military focus obscures a larger truth about our political economy.
From Big Pharma to the new digital giants, many, if not most, of our major industries have their own hyphenated relationship with various parts of Big Government. Call the system capitalism, if you want, but it has precious little to do with either free enterprise or free markets.
Much as the über-capitalistic Ayn Rand lamented in her writing, most big business people are in no way anti-state or necessarily advocates of a small state. They simply want to make the state their own, a corporate state or corporate multi-state arrangement like the European Union.
"Corporate," as a term, has a long history, and most of those who now employ it make facile comparisons to earlier uses in Italy under Benito Mussolini and in Spain under General Francisco Franco. Don't be fooled. Current corporate states lack the radical nationalist and racist ideologies, maximum leaders, mass mobilizations, labor institutions, social programs, and party control that distinguish historical Fascists.
Nor do the current incarnations exhibit the working class roots, trade union participation, and ideological concern with social equality that characterize classic Socialists, the bogeyman for our friends on the Right. Today's corporatism has no need for black shirts, brown shirts, or red flags.
The corporatists we now see make gargantuan demands on government, and their shopping list provides the Magna Carta for the new corporate state. Beyond huge bailouts for the extremely well-connected, and the implicit guarantee of more to come, they demand the full monty: preferential tax rates on capital gains and "carried interest."
Tax breaks for Big Oil, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, NASCAR, and a who's who of the well-connected. Government contracts and guarantees. Subsidies, open and hidden. Public spending to build and maintain the infrastructure they need and to counteract their carbon emissions.
More protection for their intellectual property and less for our privacy. Healthcare mandates rather than a simple extension of Medicare. And a host of other laws, regulations, and government interventions to boost their corporate profits, vastly increase their personal wealth, and legally disadvantage their competitors.
Many corporatists want "right-to work" laws, restraints on union organizing and strikes, more limits on picketing and public demonstrations, and restrictive voting registration laws to rein in the rest of us.
Most of them want lopsided free trade treaties, government finance and insurance for foreign investments, export promotion and diplomatic pressure, covert action, and hot wars to force open markets and strengthen their control of foreign oil and other natural riches. And, as Ike warned, a scary number still want cold wars and never-ending anti-terrorist crusades to scare up a market for suppliers of everything from aircraft, drones, tanks, and ships to over-priced toilets and paper clips.
This elaborate collaboration is long-standing, widespread, and deeply entrenched, making nonsense of Libertarian notions that "free enterprise" and "free markets" ever were or ever could be free of significant government involvement. Nor are the questions that the collaboration raises easy to answer.
Looking back, most Americans would salute the industrial mobilization that defeated Nazi Germany. But how should we feel about the input of Vice President Dick Cheney's friends from Big Oil before the invasion of Iraq and during the occupation? We might applaud Big Government's role in building Europe's high-speed rail systems and the life-changing Internet that nurtured America's lead in digital technology.
But how far do we want politicians and bureaucrats to go in picking winners and losers in alternative energy? How far do we want government to pursue even a democratically decided industrial policy that favors some sectors of the economy over others?
If we are ever to have a serious Left, these are questions we need to consider. They are also points of discussion and likely contention with any anti-surveillance and anti-war allies from the Right, such as Tea Party Republicans like Justin Amash.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.