A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 15, 2011
Iron Triangle

A political “iron triangle” is when a special-interest lobby, the Congressional committee that the lobby appears before, and the bureaucracy that the committee reports to all affect each other with influence, information and favors. Many presidents have tried to break the “iron triangle” of relationships in the federal government in Washington, DC.

The term “iron triangle” has been cited since at least 1973, when Theodore H. White wrote in The Making of the President, 1972 that “(p)olitical scientists identify in Washington examples of what they call an ‘Iron Triangle.’”


Wikipedia: Iron triangle (US politics)
In United States politics, the iron triangle is a term used by political scientists to describe the policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, the bureaucracy (executive) (sometimes called “government agencies"), and interest groups.

For example, within the federal government the three sides often consist of: various congressional committees, which are responsible for funding government programs and operations and then providing oversight of them; the federal agencies (often Independent agencies), which are responsible for the regulation of those affected industries; and last, the industries themselves, as well as their trade associations and lobbying groups, which benefit, or seek benefit, from these operations and programs.

Probably the earliest concept of the “iron triangle” was on January 17, 1919 by Ralph Pulitzer. It was the post World War I era when Pulitzer wrote about the Paris Peace Conference and the new relationships between the allied Governments. He stated,

“Three forces are laboring for such a sinister peace: (1) the bourbonism of politicians…; (2) the materialism of industrial…; (3) the militarism of professional soldiers…” and “If the Peace Conference is allowed to remain between governments instead of between peoples it is apt to degenerate…”

An often-used example of the term is with reference to the military-industrial complex, with Congress (and the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services), defense contractors, and the U.S. Department of Defense forming the iron triangle. The term iron triangle has been widely used by political scientists outside the United States and is today an accepted term in the field.

A Glossary of Political Economy Terms by Dr. Paul M. Johnson
Iron triangles
The closed, mutually supportive relationships that often prevail in the United States between the government agencies, the special interest lobbying organizations, and the legislative committees or subcommittees with jurisdiction over a particular functional area of government policy. As long as they hang together, the members of these small groups of movers and shakers tend to dominate all policy-making in their respective specialized areas of concern, and they tend to present a united front against “outsiders” who attempt to invade their turf and alter established policies that have been worked out by years of private negotiations among the “insiders.”

Google Books
The Making of the President, 1972
By Theodore H. White
New York, NY: Atheneum Publishers
1973
Pg. 56:
Political scientists identify in Washington examples of what they call an “Iron Triangle” — an interlocking three-way association between a well-financed lobby (whether it be in mining, education, highways, oil or other areas), the Congressional committee or subcommittee that makes laws on such subjects, and the bureaucracy in Washington which applies these laws. When these three—the committee, the lobby and the bureaucracy—in any given area all agree, and wash each other’s hands with influence, information and favors, they are almost impervious to any executive or outside pressure. Within their jurisdictions, they control national power.

Google News Archive
29 December 1974, Modesto (CA) Bee, “Congressmen, Bureaucrats Can’t Shake Urge To Splurge,” pg. A5, col. 1:
An iron triangle protects questionable programs. Forming the corners of the triangle are the legislators who vote for the projects, the beneficiaries who get the money and the bureaucrats who hand out the cash.

Google Books
Washington’s Hidden Tragedy:
The failure to make government work

By Frederic V. Malek
New York, NY: Free Press
1978
Pg. 247:
As pointed out in a recent article in Fortune, the iron triangle of regulation refers to a three-sided entente that tends to form among a regulatory agency, the Congressional committees with jurisdiction over it, and the industry it regulates.

Google Books
Private Enterprise and Public Purpose:
An understanding of the role of business in a changing social system

By S. Prakash Sethi and Carl L. Swanson
New York, NY: J. Wiley
1981
Pg. 136:
Thus, in the new regulatory agencies there is no traditional “iron triangle” at work behind the scenes. To the contrary, the New Regulation is controlled by what can only be described as a new “iron triangle” made up of public-interest groups, the press, and the Federal government as a whole (especially the courts and Congress).

Google Books
Bureaucratic Democracy:
The search for democracy and efficiency in American government

By Douglas Yates
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
1982
Pg. 165:
Relationship B is an iron triangle relationship among bureaucracy X, an interest group, and a congressional subcommittee. Such a three-way alliance represents an extreme form of segmented pluralism, in which a piece of public policy takes on the character of a private government. Iron triangles pose grave problems for both the democracy and efficiency models because (a) public scrutiny and involvment are prevented and (b) there is little or no central administrative direction of the bureaucracy. The remedy is for either the Congress as a whole or the president to break into the private government and reestablish both democratic and administrative control of bureaucratic policymaking.

Google Books
Tyranny of the Status Quo
By Milton Friedman and Rose D. Friedman
San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
1984
Pg. 157:
Chapter 9
The Iron Triangle

New York (NY) Times
What ‘Iron Triangle’ Means in Washington
Published: December 29, 1988
To the Editor:
President Reagan complained in a speech to an enthusiastic audience of Administration officials that an ‘’iron triangle’’ frustrated his supposed attempts to balance the budget (news story, Dec. 14). He defined this ‘’iron triangle’’ as consisting of Congress, special interest groups and the news media - an interesting example of Orwellian newspeak.

Hedrick Smith explains in his new book, ‘’The Power Game: How Washington Works,’’ that the iron triangle is a common Washington expression for an alliance that pushes sectarian interests over the general interest. It consists of (1) a particular agency in the executive department, (2) the Congressional committee that oversees it and (3) the industry it regulates.
(...)
MYRON MOSKOVITZ
San Francisco, Dec. 14, 1988
The writer is a professor of law at Golden Gate University.

Google Books
Who Decides Who Decides?:
Enabling choice, equity, access, improved performance, and patient guaranteed care

By John Spiers
New York, NY: Radcliffe Pub.
2008
Pg. 128:
The “iron triangle”
We should remid ourselves of the “iron triangle” which Milton and Rose Friedman enunciated. Government, vested interest and the bureaucracy would recogniz ethe handle and the axe as the blunted partners which they too often are. For these special interests form the iron triangle in which politicians, vested interests and bureaucracies run things together and in their own interests even when proclaiming the general interest. They have the longest tenures, too, and outlast prime ministers. As the Friedmans have argued, good people with intentions are not sufficient. And governmental employees, no less than those of private businesses, will put their own interests above the interests of others. “Calling them public servants does not alter that fact.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Monday, August 15, 2011 • Permalink