Two big capitalistic forces are at work to exhaust and impoverish Americans, and both power themselves by exploiting fears they themselves create.

The similarities are remarkable, once you look at them together.

The first of those forces has long been known by the name President Eisenhower gave it: The Military-Industrial Complex.

The second is coming to be recognized for the problem it is, but it needs a name, so I shall here dub it "The Health Scare Industry."

Both have built themselves to gigantic size by claiming to protect us from something dreadful.

Both expend enormous ingenuity and sums of money to get the national government to help them perpetuate and exploit these respective fears of enemies and of illness.

The government bends over backward to enable them.

Probably at some early point in their buildup, the Military-Industrial Complex and the Health Scare Industry believed they were protecting us from something terrible. Maybe, in a way, they still believe they are. They still say they are.

Also known as the "defense industry," the Military-Industrial Complex claims to be protecting America from attack by some looming, powerful, cruel enemy or other.

In the beginning, legitimately, that enemy was the Axis in World War II: Germany, Italy and Japan. President Roosevelt prodded reluctant U.S. manufacturers to increase their capacity. That war effort was spectacularly successful. It not only enabled the military to win the war, it also worked the country out of the Great Depression.

After the war ended, the expanded manufacturing capacity had to have somewhere to go, and it went in two directions: consumer products and Cold War defense. Both required a conscious and constant whipping up of sales pressure.

Called consumers instead of citizens, we were promised happiness in the form of ownership of manufactured products: two cars in every garage, an endless variety of "labor-saving" devices and appliances and recreational accoutrements, all buyable on credit. It became possible to have it all and have it now, and debt became respectable.

The Cold War defense was justified by constant and frantic warnings about Communism and the Soviet Union, made especially fearsome when the U.S.S.R. developed a nuclear bomb. The Pentagon in Washington D.C. became the solar plexus for the promotion and development of the "Arms Race" against the Soviet threat and eventually for the sale of surplus weaponry to any country that could buy it. Conflicts were launched against real and imagined Communist enemies, and the conflict showcased our military technology.

Whenever peace threatened to diminish the profitability of the defense industry, new enemies were found or created. With the help of politicians whose districts contained defense industries or military bases, enemies could be made official, and the defense portion of the nation's wealth kept expanding.

When the big Soviet bugbear collapsed of its own weight, it became necessary for the Military-Industrial Complex to keep coming up with new enemies to justify itself. Often this need coincided with the need of unpopular government leaders to make themselves relevant again by protecting us from theretofore unimagined enemies. It continues now. Iraq today, Iran tomorrow, North Korea the day after tomorrow, Islamic jihad into the long future.

People have always been concerned about their health. But for the Health Scare Industry to flourish like the Defense Industry, it had to heighten our fears of pain, disease and debility. A propaganda flood began, introducing such terms as "syndrome" and "miracle drug." Although most of the really terrible diseases, like smallpox, leprosy, Black Death, yellow fever, polio, etc., were already eliminated or under control, others were made frightfully famous, and many appeared that had never been heard of before.

Health scare stories were added to the old network triad of News, Weather and Sports, with the broadcasts sponsored mainly by medicine ads aimed straight at patients and hypochondriacs, not at doctors.

Big Pharma, Big Insurance and government work together to keep the public preoccupied and fearful, while their lobbyists swarm the Capitol. They, like the defense lobbyists, are banking on your fears. And we who aren't running those rackets grow poorer.

James Alexander Thom can be reached at .