The military-industrial complex as a variety of capitalism and threat to democracy: rethinking the political economy of guns versus butter

By Thomas Palley

PKES Working Paper 2409

June 2024

This paper examines the military-industrial complex (MIC), which is a prototype widely imitated by other business sectors. Collectively, they constitute a variety of capitalism which can be termed the poly-industrial complex (PIC). Understanding the MIC is critical to understanding contemporary US capitalism, US international policy, and the drift toward Cold War II. The MIC exerts a massive societal impact. It twists economic activity toward military spending; twists the character of technical progress; is socially corrosive via its capture of politics and government; twists societal understanding of geopolitics to increase demand for war services; promotes militarism and increases the likelihood of war; and promotes proto-fascist drift because militarism drips back into national politics. Given those features, the MIC is of first-order significance and the consequences of failure to understand it are likely to be grim. Politics is at the center of possibilities for change. That raises questions whether the demand for change can be mustered, and whether the political system will permit it.

Keywords: Military-industrial complex, war, miltarism, Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, fascism

JEL classification: D74 F51 H56 P10