Iron Triangle Definition – Political Corruption


The political science term “Iron Triangle” was coined to define a special understanding between a government, bureaucratic government agencies and special interest groups or organizations. This mutually supportive relationship is also known as a “Subgovernment” or “power elite.” Such systems have been present in different countries over the time but Iron Triangles are mostly prevalent in the United States.

Iron Triangles originated as a means of lobbyists trying to get their point of views conveyed to the government. But it often turns out to be a corrupt system as it focuses on the benefits and sustenance of a select group of individuals rather than the larger population of the country. More than one interest group can be present at the same time. This system tends to monopolize the policy making process of the government. The concept of an iron triangle derives from sociologist C. Wright Mills’s power elite theory.

How Does An Iron Triangle Work?


It starts with close relationships forming between the government (Federal Congress in case of the U.S.), Federal bureaucratic agencies and interest groups and lobbyists. The interest groups aid the government with useful statistics, information, political support and funding. The agencies gain favorable remarks and testimonials in regards to their services.

The government returns the favor by passing laws and policies beneficial to these groups. The agencies help the government in passing these laws easily. Thus, all elements of the triangle keep the others happy and create a mutually sustainable relationship.

How It Can Be A Problem?

As mentioned earlier, the concept of Iron Triangle evolved from the needs of the interest groups to get their side of the story heard. It can transpire into some important and relevant laws and policies being introduced. An example would be the American Association for Retired People (AARP) and the Social Security Administration that have worked closely with the government and the agencies to bring out some very useful policies for the American citizens.

The problem starts when the corporate houses and industrialists consist of the lobbyists. These entities are more interested in laws and policies that benefit their own interests. These types of projects are often called pork-barrel projects. An example would be the triangle between the US Ministry of Defense, the Congress and the defense contractors. Another possible example is The Christian Coalition lobbying for a bill to stop abortion. If the law gets passed it would be termed as a pork-barrel project as it does not benefit majority of the population. It is the so called “one percent” that gets the financial benefit from all of this.

Global Iron Triangle

Several research groups, scientific organizations and environmental groups are lobbying for bills and aids supporting their theories of Global Warming in multiple countries. Some countries have already come up with policies and laws to this effect.

The Iron Quadrangle

It is a new term being coined to define a situation where there is a fourth entity present in the equation. With the defense budgets drying up in Europe, U.S. defense contractors like Lockheed Martin are aiming for a market in countries like India. In this case, the U.S. government, the department of Defense, the contractors and India make up the four corners of the quadrangle.

Iron Triangles are present in almost every country but sometimes the presence of this system is not readily apparent. In some cases the bureaucrats are the real movers and shakers of an iron triangle rather than the government itself. Some believe the United States is no longer a democracy, but a mass media system of “inverted totalitarianism”.