military-industrial complex

military-industrial complex
A term used to describe the alleged dependence of advanced capitalist economies on the marriage of economic and military-political objectives during the period of the Cold War. A number of sociological studies of this phenomenon were undertaken, the best-known of which is probably C. Wright Mills's The Power Elite (1956), in which he argued that the homogeneous governing clique in post-war America represented an alliance of economic, military, and political power, and (contrary to the arguments of pluralists ) had established the USA as simultaneously a ‘private corporation economy’ and a ‘permanent war economy’ within which ‘virtually all political and economic actions are now judged in terms of military definitions of reality’. Mills's account of the American power élite, and the ‘military capitalism’ it encouraged by perpetuating the arms race, was echoed in later studies. Fred J. Cook described America as a ‘warfare state’ in which political life was dominated by military definitions of foreign policy and economic rationality (The Warfare State, 1962). Similarly, John Kenneth Galbraith's study of The New Industrial State (1967) argues that Cold War imagery served to stabilize aggregate demand in the American economy, since ‘if the image is one of a nation beset by enemies, there will be a responding investment in weapons … [and so] … in public affairs as well as in private affairs, and for the same reasons, we are subject to contrivance that serves the industrial system’.
The main problems with this interpretation of the American social structure were that it was difficult to verify empirically (much of Mills's own evidence is perhaps best described as circumstantial) and that it was implicitly functionalist (witness Galbraith's claim that the weapons competition between the United States and USSR ‘is not a luxury: it serves an organic need of the industrial system as now constituted’).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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