As a historian and political scientist by training, I’ve spent a lifetime studying the various Industrial Complexes that drive our social, religious, political, and economic way of life. I’ve also repeatedly encountered and worked against these systems throughout my life and career. They systems have arisen as a result of powerful stories being told to unwitting masses about the way we should believe, work, and live to maintain our way of life. These stories are very persistent illusions that are deeply embedded in our national psyche.
Entire movements have occurred in opposition to these powerful fallacies. Most often, it takes consistent efforts by committed people working tirelessly to enlighten the masses to the truths that are right under their noses. At other times however, it has taken powerful people to shine a light on the structures behind these stories and the powerful interests they serve.
In his farewell speech to the nation in 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned against what he called the Military Industrial Complex which Encyclopedia Brittanica defines as A network of individuals and institutions involved in the production of weapons and military technologies…to marshal political support for continued or increased military spending by the national government. One only need to study the defense budgets as a percentage of our government spending and GDP to observe the effect of what President Eisenhower warned.
Here are a few other Industrial Complexes we can readily identify:
The Prison Industrial Complex: The rapid expansion of the US inmate population to the political influence of private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies. It is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems. (source: Wikipedia and Criticalresistance.org)
The School to Prison Pipeline: This is the twin sister of the Prison Industrial Complex. It refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education. For a growing number of students, the path to incarceration includes the “stops” of failing public schools, zero tolerance discipline policies, increased reliance on police to monitor school halls and after school traffic, court involvement and juvenile detention. (source: ACLU)
In this Industrial Complex, high school dropouts were 63 times more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates; 85% of youth in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate; 90% of welfare recipients are college dropouts. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. (source: Begintoread.com)
The Education Industrial Complex: The network of individuals and institutions involved in perpetuating rising education costs, high debt loads, and exploiting an education-for-profit model that severely limits poor and middle class children’s ability manage the cost of higher education without incurring disproportionate debt.
The Education Industrial Complex powered what came to be known as The American Century. In this system however, we funnel our kids into batches with age rather than aptitude as the primary differentiator. We teach them things of decreasing relevance for 13 years and ask them to regurgitate material they quickly forget after the test. We then graduate them continue to move them down the assembly line into the vocational, service sector, military, or community college and university system. We tell our children that unless they go to college and get at least a bachelors degree, they are doomed to life of poverty and unfulfillment. We tell them that if they accrue just a little more debt, obtain an advanced degree and land that “dream job,” life will be all beer and skittles. We do our best to continue to funnel them into an ideal existence called “the middle class” where they become cogs in the wheel, amass staggering debt, and teach their children to repeat the cycle. Most never really learn the rules of money or investing, compound interest, how to create jobs, or amass true wealth.
The results of the Education Industrial Complex are staggering; student loan debt has topped $1.3 Trillion; student loan default rates have doubled; 54% of college grads only work part time and outside their field of study. Student debt has increased 325% since 2004, 511% since 90’s, and 1180% since the government started keeping records in 1978. Also since 2004, the number of students owing between $50,000 and $75,000 doubled while the number of borrowers owing north of $200,000 tripled. (sources: Brookings Institute, New York Federal Reserve Bank, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Economics 21)
I, for example, have personally never had a single job, paid a single bill, eaten a single meal, or bought a single pair of pants from anything I hold degrees in.
Even with these statistics, 86% of Americans still believe a college education to be a worthwhile investment.
Last but not least, there is what I have dubbed the Income Industrial Complex. The false reality that has been perpetuated for decades to reinforce the ideal of the 40+ hour workweek that once powered our industrial economy and caused millions of people to blindly surrender the best and most creative years of their life and youth to companies that ultimately outsourced, downsized, and otherwise exploited them for profit while simultaneously teaching people to celebrate and view as “lucky” those individuals who had the courage and persistence to chart their own course on their own terms.
We all know the story that powers the Income Industrial Complex; Go to school to get good grades to get into a good school to get a good job that will pay you a good living for 40 years so that you can invest well in your 401K and retire comfortably at 65. This system is inextricably linked to the Education Industrial Complex.
When you take a deeper look, you discover the real story being told to perpetuate the Income Industrial Complex; Work for 40 hours per week for 40 years to hope to retire at age 65 and live on 40% of what you didn’t think was enough in the first place. This story has become know as the 40/40/40 plan.
By contrast, many business owners (more than 30% according to Forbes) believe their education had little to nothing to do with their success.
“Only 61% of all business owners felt a college education was very or somewhat important for success in today’s economy.” By stark contrast, according to Gallop and a Lumina Foundation study, “97% of Americans still believe that a college education is at least somewhat important for both career success and financial stability.”
The industrial economy is dead and many have missed the funeral. There are many ways to make a living that are better in the long run than the traditional 40/40/40 plan. The illusion of the stability of a steady pay check that will meet all of your needs is just that.
This post was largely to open the eyes of those who haven’t noticed how they’ve been affected by these systems. Tomorrow’s post will give creative and viable options for escaping the 40/40/40 for those who desire to.