Nationalization and the ACW war industries

One of the fascinating things about Mark Wilson's new book, The Business of Civil War: Military Mobilization and the State, is his rundown of federal control of war industry during the ACW. The feds themselves competed with contractors and through Meigs' quartermasters, they put at least 1/4 of the new, massive national war production in key military goods into army-managed facilities. The contemporary rationales for this are worth visiting in a future post.

Meanwhile, this just in from HNN: Why It's Time to Nationalize the US Defense Industry . This HNN piece is high concept, starting from a premise that the business of defense is national business. But in Wilson, the ACW quartermasters are operating on micro-economic rationales: contractors are colluding; their prices are too high; the quality is second rate; the army can do better without a middleman; the army needs to produce goods at a standard the private sector can then model. The quartermasters are also operating in a political mode: poor women need higher income than contractors will pay; soldiers' families should be preferred for government work; the political balance will tip in key cities if military industry there is privatized.

I have been prepped for all this, by these good people and their point that the current military setup turns our top generals into mere shepherds (poodles?) of military procurement. (One of their heroes, Jim Burton, sits on my county board and does my interests proud, bless him.)

I am not grinding a political axe here, it's just that Mark Wilson has got me rethinking the business-of-war issue via those old Civil War anti-contractor memes.

Wilson did an article on ACW price fixing here. The Italians seem to dig him. And he's featured in an MIT course on ACW technology.

See for yourself.

(Caption to Harper's cartoon, above right: PENNSYLVANIA BEEF CONTRACTOR. "Want Beefsteak? Good Gracious, what is the World coming to? Why, my Good Fellow, if you get Beefsteak, how on earth are Contractors to live? Tell me that.")