Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Interesting view of who holds power in the US

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This site was linked to in the previous post, but I wanted to draw your attention:

The Class-Domination Theory of Power by G. William Domhoff 

NOTE: is largely based on my book,Who Rules America?, first published in 1967 and now in its 6th edition. This on-line document is presented as a summary of some of the main ideas in that book.

Who has predominant power in the United States? The short answer, from 1776 to the present, is: Those who have the money have the power. George Washington was one of the biggest landowners of his day; presidents in the late 19th century were close to the railroad interests; for George W. Bush, it is oil and other natural resources, agribusiness, and finance. But to be more exact, those who own income-producing property — corporations, real estate, and agribusinesses — set the rules within which policy battles are waged.

While this may seem simple and/or obvious, the reasons behind it are complex. They involve an understanding of social classes, the role of experts, the two-party system, and the history of the country, especially Southern slavery. In terms of the big world-historical picture, and the Four Networks theory of power advocated on this site, money rules in America because there are no rival networks that grew up over a long and complex history:

  • No big church, as in many countries in Europe
  • No big government, as it took to survive as a nation-state in Europe
  • No big military until after 1940 (which is not very long ago) to threaten to take over the government

So, the only power network of any consequence in the history of the United States has been the economic one, which under capitalism generates a business-owning class that hires workers and a working class, along with small businesses and skilled artisans who are self-employed, and a relatively small number of independent professionals like physicians. In this context, the key reason why gold can rule, i.e., why the business owners who hire workers can rule, is that the people who work in the factories and fields were divided from the outset into free and slave, white and black, and later into numerous immigrant ethnic groups as well, making it difficult for workers as a whole to unite politically to battle for higher wages and better social benefits. This important point is elaborated on toward the end of this document in a section entitled "The Weaknesses of the Working Class."

Moreover, the simple answer that gold rules has to be qualified somewhat. Domination by the few does not mean complete control, but rather the ability to set the terms under which other groups and classes must operate. Highly trained professionals with an interest in environmental and consumer issues have been able to couple their technical information and their understanding of the legislative process with timely publicity to win governmental restrictions on some corporate practices. Wage and salary workers, when they are organized or disruptive, sometimes have been able to gain concessions on wages, hours, and working conditions.

Most of all, there is free speech and the right to vote. While voting does not necessarily make government responsive to the will of the majority, under certain circumstances the electorate has been able to place restraints on the actions of the wealthy elites, or to decide which elites will have the greatest influence on policy. This is especially a possibility when there are disagreements within the higher circles of wealth and influence.

Still, the idea that a relatively fixed group of privileged people dominate the economy and government goes against the American grain and the founding principles of the country. "Class" and "power" are terms that make Americans a little uneasy, and concepts such as "upper class" and "power elite" immediately put people on guard. Americans may differ in their social and income levels, and some may have more influence than others, but it is felt that there can be no fixed power group when power is constitutionally lodged in all the people, when there is democratic participation through elections and lobbying, and when the evidence of social mobility is everywhere apparent. So, it is usually concluded by most power analysts that elected officials, along with "interest groups" like "organized labor" and "consumers," have enough "countervailing" power to say that there is a fluid, "pluralistic" distribution of power rather than one with rich people and corporations at the top.

Contrary to this pluralistic view, I will try to demonstrate how rule by the wealthy few is possible despite free speech, regular elections, and organized opposition:

  • "The rich" coalesce into a social upper class that has developed institutions by which the children of its members are socialized into an upper-class worldview, and newly wealthy people are assimilated.
  • Members of this upper class control corporations, which have been the primary mechanisms for generating and holding wealth in the United States for upwards of 150 years now.
  • There exists a network of nonprofit organizations through which members of the upper class and hired corporate leaders not yet in the upper class shape policy debates in the United States.
  • Members of the upper class, with the help of their high-level employees in profit and nonprofit institutions, are able to dominate the federal government in Washington.
  • The rich, and corporate leaders, nonetheless claim to be relatively powerless.
  • Working people have less power than in many other democratic countries.

Before running through this list, it is first necessary to define the term "power" and to explain the "indicators" of power that are used to determine who has it. Later other concepts will be introduced as they are needed. They include "social class," "upper class," "corporate community," "interlocking directorates," the "policy-planning network," the "power elite," the "special-interest process," the "candidate-selection process," and a few others. All of these concepts are necessary in order to understand the nature and operation of the "power structure" in the United States.

Power and Power Indicators

Power is one of those words that is easy to understand but hard to define in a precise manner. We know it means "clout" or "juice" or "muscle" or "the ability to make things happen." We know it comes from words implying the ability to act in a strong, compelling, and direct way, but we also know that power can be projected in a very quiet and indirect manner.

By "power" I mean "the capacity of some persons to produce intended and foreseen effects on others" (Wrong, 1995). This is a very general definition that allows for the many forms of power that can be changed from one to another, such as economic power, political power, military power, ideological power, and intellectual power (i.e., knowledge, expertise). It leaves open the question of whether "force" or "coercion" is always lurking somewhere in the background in the exercise of power, as many definitions imply. However, to say that power is the ability to produce intended and foreseen effects on others does not mean it is a simple matter to study the power of a group or social class. A formal definition does not explain how a concept is to be measured. In the case of power, it is seldom possible to observe interactions that reveal its operation even in a small group, let alone to see one "social class" producing "effects" on another. It is therefore necessary to develop what are called "indicators" of power.

For research purposes, power can be thought of as an underlying "trait" or "property" of a social group or social class. It is measured by a series of signs, or indicators, that bear a probabilistic relationship to it. This means that all the indicators do not necessarily appear each and every time power is manifesting itself. Research proceeds through a series of "if-then" statements: "if" a group or class is powerful, "then" it should be expected that certain indicators of this power will be present. It is especially important to have more than one indicator. Ideally, the indicators will be of very different types so that any irrelevant components in them will cancel each other out. In the best of all possible worlds, these multiple indicators will point to the same group or class, increasing the likelihood that the underlying concept has been measured correctly.

There are three primary indicators of power, which can be summarized as (1) who benefits? (2) who governs? and (3) who wins? In every society there are experiences and material objects that are highly valued. If it is assumed that everyone in the society would like to have as great a share as possible of these experiences and objects, then the distribution of values in that society can be utilized as a power indicator. Those who benefit the most, by inference, are powerful. In American society, wealth and well-being are highly valued. People seek to own property, earn high incomes, to have interesting and safe jobs, and to live long and healthy lives. All of these "values" are unequally distributed, and all may be utilized as power indicators.

Power also can be inferred from …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2009 at 10:18 am

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