In his farewell address Dwight Eisenhower called the country’s attention to what was then a new and serious threat to it:
Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Over the intervening years that threat has not abated. If anything, it is worse. Sadly, Ike only saw the tip of the iceberg. Later years saw the extension of the military-industrial complex, greatly abetted by the work of a later president, Lyndon Johnson, into healthcare, finance, education, and many other sectors of our society.
Today on top of the military-industrial complex there is a medical-industrial complex, a regulatory-financial complex, and an educational-organized labor complex. There’s a political-journalistic complex that ensures that the correct messages are promulgated and a federal bureaucracy with a primary objective of seeing to it that problems give the appearance of being addressed without actually solving any.
These various complexes work synergistically to absorb any and all resources thrown at them. Do you wonder why we’re spending so much more in real, per capita terms on our military, financial, healthcare, and educational systems than we did fifty years ago with such mediocre results? That’s it.
And that’s why my policy preferences lean towards changing incentives. We can’t just spend our way out of our problems.