The De-Militarization of the Military-Industrial Complex, 1961-2015

Mark R. Wilson

Even business historians who acknowledge that the Pentagon qualifies by some measures as the world’s biggest business enterprise may be forgiven their lack of interest in it, because business-government relations in the defense sector are widely thought of as abnormal, and rather static.   In this paper, I argue that the history of the US defense sector over the past half century (or century) has been  more dynamic than we have imagined.  In this short paper I focus on two related aspects of what I am calling the de-militarization of the US military-industrial complex since the early 1960s.  First, I discuss de-militarization in the sense of privatization and commercialization, with an emphasis on the military's shedding of its in-house production capacities.  Second, I describe the marked growth in policymakers' tolerance for higher profit margins among contractors (and its connection to privatization).  I hope that the paper will encourage more interest among business historians in the record of the defense sector and its relationship to broader developments in business and economic history.