The Military Industrial Complexes of Our Time


Pop will eat itself. Progressives too.

At The Economist, Will Wilkinson responds to a recent essay Vanity Fair essay on inequality by economist Joe Stiglitz:

As Gabriel Sherman writes in a new New York Magazine article on Peter Orszag and the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, "The close alliance among Wall Street and the economics departments of the major universities and the West Wing of the White House is the military-industrial complex of our time." Not to say that the military-industrial complex is not the military-industrial complex of our times, nor that the confluence of government and health care is not the military-industrial complex of our times. The problem is that we are multiplying military-industrial complexes. But this explosion in public-private "partnerships", and the inevitable political corruption and economic distortion they produce, is not at bottom due to a plot of the top 1%. It is due in no small part to the success of progressive ideologues like Mr Stiglitz in arguing for ever greater government control over everything.

A political system that enshrines governments' power to grant monopolies and other barriers to economic competition, whether they be direct subsidies to government's chosen champion firms, or less direct subsidies by way of taxes, tariffs, and regulations that disproportionately harm less-favoured firms, inevitably attracts money to politics. Under close inspection, the progressive master narrative is revealed as a tail-chasing, self-consuming progressive Ouroboros. It is an argument against money in politics that argues for precisely the sort of government power that draws money to politics. The progressive master narrative runs on the fuel of class interest, but it makes an arbitrary exception for members of the progressive technocratic elite.

This can't be said often enough. Involving politics in industry is a surefire way to involve money in politics. The more that government seeks to influence the economy, the more that individuals with means will seek to influence the government. This often leads progressives to push for better regulators on one hand and tighter controls on the other. Taxes become tools to alter behavior rather than raise operating revenue. Industries become regulated to the point that they are quasi-public utilities. Public-private partnerships pile up, as do their costs; just this morning, the Obama administration announced it would spend a billion dollars on partnerships designed to reduce medical errors. It's an endless feedback loop, in which progressive reformers are perpetually trying to fix the problems they helped create.

Wilkinson's whole essay, which is very much worth reading, is here. My take on Peter Orszag's move to Citibank here

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  1. The progressive master narrative runs on the fuel of class interest, but it makes an arbitrary exception for members of the progressive technocratic elite.

    This would be as folks of color say…’The Man.’

  2. Well without such a system, what jobs would all those with political science and sociology degrees supposed to do ? Also without such a system, how else would the country defend itself from China, as “The Truth” is always warning about ?

  3. It’s amazing the extent to which “progressive” solutions to problems lead to a increase in the very same problem, and therefore needs more of the “solution”. It’s almost…convenient.

    1. Convenient like the Kochs dismantling entire branches of government so people will have nowhere else to turn but Koch Industries?


      2. Having nowhere to turn but the free market. The horror, the horror….

    2. I think we have to differentiate between the true believer progressives, like the college students who were protesting in Wisconsin, and career politician “progressives”, like the ones in the Capitol. The former are simply naive and really do believe government is the solution to all that ails us, but the later understands all too well that money follows power.

    3. Just one little government program, kid. Don’t you want to try it? Hey, I’ll even give you this one on the house.

  4. So I guess this is where we would be praising Boehner for pushing a budget bill (that at least pretends to cut spending) that effectively killed his half a billion dollar F-35 replacement engine that was to be made in his own district?

    This is what we want, right? Politicians putting their job priorities above re-election buffering through unneeded pork?

    Or am I just being too generous to Boehner?

  5. Peter: You should look into the bill co-sponsored by Grassley and Widen to open the Medicare billing database up to the public. It would shine light on practitioners who abuse the system.

    If Reason has already been there – my bad.


    The fact this is even a debate is outrageous.

  6. I read this pos in vanity fare. It’s complete and total crap. I can’t believe someone got paid to write that. Tony or “the truth” could have written it- it was that insane and, yes I’ll say it, retarded.

  7. From the Office of Redundency Office:
    “Will Wilkinson responds to a recent essay Vanity Fair essay on inequality “

  8. The problem is that we are multiplying military-industrial complexes.

    That’s a problem, how?

    By the way, the word is “complices”.

    1. Let me guess, you went to a government school.

    2. You’re so fucking stupid. Is rectal you as well?

  9. Let the Iron Law illuminate your path:

    Money and power will always find each other.

  10. attracts money to politics and attracts politics to money


    1. I remember this microsoft lobbying thing very well. There were progressives who were actually annoyed that Microsoft ignored Washington by not having a lobbyist.

      Progressives are full of shit. They want money to find its way to Washington. That’s the goal. The whole “get the money out of politics” schtick is a fucking shiny distraction for the Kos Kids.

      1. they just pulled another chair up to the table-I can’t remember who received the invite from the Don

  11. Isn’t Stiglitz the guy that killed all those SS officers during the wat?

  12. Since Warren is notably missing I’ll fill in:


  13. Actually, if anyone bothered to check Eisenhower’s speech when he popularized the “Military-Industrial Complex” phrase they would see that Ike clearly identified several other “complexes” similar to those Wilkinson describes.

    Wilkinson is 50 years behind Ike.

    I like Ike.

    1. You like Vietnam escalation and elevating treaties above the Constitution?

    2. When I was little I didn’t want to be like Mike
      I wanted to be like Ike
      Papa was a rollin’ stone in the sixties,
      And he liked green just like Bill Bixby…

  14. confluence of government and health care is not the military-industrial complex of our times.

    Control your population’s healthcare, and you control everything.

  15. This is silly. Government protects us from the corporations, any schoolchild knows that. Anyone who’s seen “Rollerball” knows what happens when markets go unregulated by the State.

    1. I think this is a spoof, but I know far too many people who get their economics and politics from Hollywood films.

  16. Can we just call it a “public-industrial complex” or “bureaucratic-industrial complex” already? Or does “bizgov’mentness” constitute a better term?

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