Why progressives must guard against nefarious, corporate domination in the 21st century
The concept of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) has found a lasting place in western (especially American) pop culture. Although some have certainly romanticized the idea, it does represent many truths about the economic evolution of the United States and countries around the world in the last century.
In fact, one could easily make the argument that the nature of the state systems that came about around the time of the First World War necessitated the rise of a MIC.
The 21st century has so far brought many new challenges to the already-existing world system. Necessarily the MIC has changed as well. In this new era, the power of corporate entities to affect government policy is unlike that of the past. Sectors of the economy which were, up until the modern age, fairly unconnected, are now, in many ways, essential parts of one another.
The new global order is still forming itself. To that end the progressive struggle is one of the maintenance of personal freedom and quality of life through changing the system so as to realize those goals.
This is a system that was built through warfare. Its roots go back to the evolution of the “corporate” (also much more bureaucratic) state in 18th century Europe. When the MIC is referred to in modern times, it is often used as a reference to the result of economic and political changes which occurred primarily after the two world wars of the 20th century.
The large-scale economic, military, and ideological competition between nations in the 20th century was historically unrivaled. After World War II a new global order emerged that was largely dominated by the politics and actions of the United States and the Soviet Union.
The state’s relationship to the military in this period underwent significant shifts. In particular, the military and production of goods for the military machine became a massive part of the budgets of both the US and the USSR.
The machine grew over time to encompass much of society. This is a by-product of the coalescence of the world economy during the last century as well as the increasing connectedness, a large part of if coming through the internet, of modern society.
In Buddhist thought, the connection of all things (interpenetration) is represented figuratively by the tale of a great, ethereal net belonging to the deity Indra. The net contains a multiplicity of jewels set at its key axes, each reflecting all the others.
This story is useful when attempting to describe how our world is changing in the modern era. It also gives a very fascinating viewpoint from which to deconstruct the framework of the MIC.
Globalization has brought nations around the world closer together than they have ever been before. The universal element of human demand for consumption has always, and will, most likely, always remain.
This will be the case independently of material variables like geography and national borders which separate peoples and nations. Because of this, MICs around the world have become more and more dependent on one another as part of a greater global complex. It then follows that their competition with one another must take new, never before seen forms.
The corporate world drives this new system, which is responsible for providing the means to warfare. States, on the other hand, often provide the justification. It is of merit to ask the question: how do we hold corporations accountable for the actions they aid governments in carrying out?
A paper published in the Journal of Business Ethics entitled The U.S. Military-Industrial Complex is Circumstantially Unethical (2010), by Edmund F. Byrne PhD, professor of philosophy at Indiana University, makes several important contentions with respect to this question:
A) Certain business or political practices undertaken by corporate entities (the MIC, on a macro scale, is, in a way, itself a “corporate” entity) can be representative of unethical behavior either always or circumstantially.
B) The primary customer of the military industrial complex is composed in its entirety of the political-military establishment as well as the voluminous collection of minor corporate entities (defense contractors, oil companies, international corporate conglomerates, etc.) which, metaphorically, cling to its belly like pseudo-symbiotic parasites.
C) The principal provider of aid to the (at least outwardly) militant wing of the military industrial complex is the defense industry.
These hypotheticals provide the groundwork for an ethical analysis of the relationship between the private and public sectors. Using these as a basis Byrne then goes on to contend that:
1) To the extent to which the Military Industrial Complex wishes to remain “ethical,” it must, necessarily, maintain lasting relationships with ethical “customers.”
2) The origins of the Military Industrial Complex are not necessarily mired in the realm of the unethical, however the modern system has evolved to allow, to a much greater extent, the “circumstantially“ (fuzzy or indirect evidence) unethical behavior of corporate entities.
In short, Byrne contends that corporations must realize that unethical behavior carried out under the names of national governments is still partially their responsibility. It is likely that this fact has already been realized, the only problem is that money talks.
Furthermore, the relationship between government and corporate entities often leads the former to protect the profit-making of said corporations. He writes that, “So a war-oriented industry with a superpower for a customer is far better than any organized crime to carry on its arguably nefarious business with minimal interference from any law enforcement agency.”
These companies often profit from war, regardless of the reasons for fighting. Progressivism must address this situation. The ability of corporate entities to mold official government policy to suit profit motives at the expense of human lives should be slight, if not non-existent.
In the interests of a free society, it will be necessary to watch the relationship between government institutions and the corporate sector.
National defense may always be a part of the state concept. Because of this, it is best to make a distinction between those corporate bodies that are helpful to life and those that are harmful to it. Progressives must seek to scrutinize all corporate capability for nefarious, militaristic manipulation of humanity.