FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Our Corporate Military

by KEVIN CARSON

Nicholas Kristoff, in a New York Times op-ed (“Our Lefty Military,” June 16), lauds the “astonishingly liberal ethos” that governs the military internally ? single-payer health insurance, job security, educational opportunities, free daycare ? in support of Gen. Wesley Clark’s description of it as “the purest application of socialism there is.”

For me ? an avowed libertarian socialist as well as a market anarchist ? at least two howlers stand out here. First, when I think of “socialism,” I think of all the liberatory things originally associated with that term back in the days of the early working class and classical socialist movement in the nineteenth century: Empowerment of the working class, worker control of production, and all the rest. Last I heard, the U.S. military isn’t set up as a worker cooperative, with enlisted men electing officers, managing their own work, or voting on whether or not to go to war. Taking orders from a boss “because I said so” isn’t my idea of socialism.

Second, the primary external mission of the U.S. military is to keep the world ? or rather the corporate pigs who claim to own it ? safe from anything remotely resembling worker empowerment. To me, that’s pretty unsocialistic. For the past sixty-odd years since WWII (a lot longer, actually), the primary focus of American national security policy has been to protect feudal landed oligarchs from land reform, protect Western-owned corporations from nationalization, act as collector of last resort for the company store known as the World Bank, and enforce the draconian “intellectual property” protectionism which is the central bulwark of global corporate power today. Kristoff’s “socialist” military’s primary mission is keeping the world firmly in the hands of its corporate rulers.

Aside from that, I think Kristoff has it exactly backward: The military is almost a parody of American corporate culture. It’s riddled with hierarchy, with Taylorist/Weberian bureaucratic work rules and standard operating procedures, and all the irrationality that goes with them. The only difference is, the pointy-haired bosses wear a different kind of uniform. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Brazil,” or read Dilbert on a regular basis, you get the idea.

Kristoff has one point on his side: The differentials between production workers and senior management are a lot lower in the military than in present-day Corporate America. But that just means the military is structured more along the lines of old-style bureaucratic “Organization Man” capitalism of the sixties (as described by J.K. Galbraith), in which CEO salaries were typically only fifty times that of a production worker, rather than the current pathological model of cowboy capitalism where it’s more like five hundred.

The military, like the large corporation, is plagued by enormously high overhead costs (the cost of training a soldier), and enormously wasteful capital outlays. The military, like an oligopoly corporation, can afford to be so wasteful because it doesn’t bear the full cost of its own activities.

Corporate America’s prevailing management accounting system, invented almost a century ago by Donaldson Brown of DuPont and GM, equates consumption of inputs to creation of value. You know, like the Soviet centrally planned economy. Administrative costs like management salaries, along with wasteful capital expenditures, are incorporated ? through the practice known as “overhead absorption” ? into the transfer price of goods “sold” to inventory. And in an oligopoly market, the corporation is able to pass those costs ? plus a profit markup ? on to the customer through administered pricing. The military shares that pricing system, with its incentives to maximize costs (Paul Goodman called “the great kingdom of cost-plus”). Ever hear of those $600 toilet seats? But in the case of the military, the administered pricing is called “taxation.”

In short the military, like the large corporation, is a giant, bureaucratic, irrational, and authoritarian institution which can only survive through parasitism ? enabled by the state ? on the working class.

Kevin Carson is a research associate at the Center for a Stateless Society. his written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.

 

 

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail