Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Understanding Power Structure In The U.S.

Who wields predominant power in the United States?

From 1776 to the present, the answer is and always has been those who have the money.
It's no coincidence that the first president,
George Washington; was one of the biggest landowners of his day.
Late 19th century presidents were close to the railroad interests and the 'robber barons'.
For the Bush family, it was oil and other natural resources, agribusiness, and finance.
Today it's the banks, corporations, agribusinesses,as well as big real estate developers.
They work separately on many policy issues, but in combination on general issues like
taxes, opposition to labor unions, and trade agreements.
They set the rules within which all policy battles are waged.

How and why does it differ from other nations?
This conclusion may at first glance strike you as too simple or direct,
leaving out the effects of elected officials or voters.
Yet it is not simple at all. The reasons behind it are ripe with complexity.
Understanding the deviations and contrasts with other democratic nations
require an understanding of social classes, the role of "experts",
the two-party system, and the history of the United States, (especially Southern slavery).
In terms of the larger world-historical picture, large economic interests rule the U.S. because there are no rival networks that grew in U.S. history.
  • There is no one 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 and a working class, along with small businesses and skilled craft workers who are self-employed, and a relatively small number of highly trained professionals such as architects, lawyers, physicians, and scientists etc.
In this context, the key reason why money can rule -- i.e., why the business owners who hire workers can rule -- is that the people who worked in the factories and fields were divided from the outset.
They were divided into free and slave, white and black, and into numerous immigrant ethnic groups as well.

Divide and Conquer
The divisions created by the ruling class made it difficult for workers as a whole to unite politically to battle for higher wages or better lots in society. The divisions couldn't be more obvious today.
Look at our presidential race. Observe how the various groups are incited on many fronts including the major media (which now is 'occupied'. Owned by very few corporate interests) to be angry with each other rather than at the very people doing the inciting and dividing.
The simple answer that money 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 more often, 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.

There is global stratification and there is American stratification.
The effect in the US is more pronounced.
The Poor never have any power and are at the mercy of others, in the US the Middle and Working Class, once robust in the post WWII era have been decimated and have less power than in nearly all other democracies. 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 many Americans a little uneasy, and concepts such as "upper class" and "power elite" immediately put many 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 dwelling in all the people.
We observe democratic participation through elections.
There is evidence of social mobility. So we conclude that elected officials, along with "interest groups" like "organized labor" and "consumers," have enough "countervailing" power to say that there is an open, "pluralistic" distribution of power rather than one with only the very richest people and corporations at the top. But this is just denial.
Contrary to this pluralistic view, rule by the wealthy few is possible despite free speech, regular elections, and organized opposition.

  • The ruling wealthy 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 any 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 over of 150 years now.
  • There exists a network of nonprofit organizations through which members of the upper class and their hired corporate leaders not yet in the upper class shape the 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 other democratic countries.
Let's take a moment to define the term "power" and to explain the "indicators" of power that determine who has it.
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 or indirect manner.
Let's define power as "the capacity of some persons to produce intended and foreseen effects on others"  This is a 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.  Power can be thought of as an underlying "trait" or "property" that is measured by a series of signs, or indicators, that bear a probabilistic relationship to it. (Bet you didn't see quantum physics coming into play in an article about policy making!)
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 are power indicators.

Power also can be inferred from studies of who occupies important institutional positions and takes part in important decision-making groups. If a group or class is highly over-represented in relation to its proportion of the population, it can certainly be inferred that the group is powerful.

If, for example, a group makes up 10% of the population but has 50% of the seats in the main governing institutions, then it has five times more people in governing positions than would be expected by chance, and there is thus probable reason to believe that the group is a powerful one.

There are many policy issues over which groups or classes disagree.
In the United States different policies are suggested by opposing groups in foreign policy, taxation, the general welfare of the people, research, public education, and the environment. Power can be inferred from these issue conflicts by determining who successfully initiates, modifies, or vetoes policy alternatives. This indicator, by focusing on actions within the decision-making process, comes closest to approximating the process of power that is contained in the formal definition. It is no less an inference to say that who wins on issues is an indicator of "power" than with the other two types of empirical observations -- value distributions and positional over-representation -- that we must also use as power indicators.

The Upper Class
The upper class makes up only a few tenths of one percent of the population.
Members of the upper class live in exclusive suburban neighborhoods, expensive downtown co-ops, and large country estates. They often have far-away summer and winter homes as well. They attend a system of private schools that extends from pre-school to the university level; the best known of these schools are the "day" and "boarding" prep schools that take the place of public high schools. Adult members of the upper class socialize in expensive country clubs, downtown luncheon clubs, hunting clubs, and garden clubs. Young women of the upper class are "introduced" to high society each year through an elaborate series of debutante teas, parties, and balls. Women of the upper class gain experience as "volunteers" through a nationwide organization known as the Junior League, and then go on to serve as directors of cultural organizations, family service associations, and hospitals (see  Kendall, 2002, for a good account of women of the upper class by a sociologist who was also a participant in upper-class organizations).
These various social institutions are important in creating "social cohesion" and a sense of in-group "we-ness." This sense of cohesion is heightened by the fact that people can be excluded from these organizations. Through these institutions, young members of the upper class and those who are new to wealth develop shared understandings of " how to be wealthy".
Because these social settings are expensive and exclusive, members of the upper class usually come to think of themselves as "special" and "superior." They think they are better than other people, and certainly better able to lead and govern. Their self-confidence and social polish become useful in dealing with people from other social classes, who are taught to admire them and defer to their judgments. Findings by economists on the wealth and income distribution say that the upper class, comprising 0.5% to 1% of the population, owns 40-50% of all privately held wealth in the United States and receives gains of 12-15% of total income yearly on average. In short, the upper class scores very high on the "who benefits" power indicator.
The Role of Corporations
Major economic power in the United States is concentrated in an organizational and legal form known as the corporation, and has been since the last several decades of the 19th century. No one doubts that individual corporations have great power in the society at large. For example, they can hire and fire workers, decide where to invest their resources, and use their income in a variety of tax-deductible ways to influence schools, charities, and governments. Are the large corporations united enough to exert a common social power?  Are they controlled by members of the upper class?
The unity of the corporations can be demonstrated in a numerous ways. They share a common interest in making profits. They are often owned by the same families or financial institutions. Their executives have very similar educational and work experiences. It is also important for their sense of unity that corporate leaders see themselves as sharing common opponents.  Largely organized labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and regulation from government officials. A sense of togetherness is created as well by their use of the same few legal, accounting, and consulting firms.
However, the best way to demonstrate the unity among corporations is through what sociologists call "interlocking directors," meaning those individuals who sit on two or more of the boards of directors that are in charge of the overall direction of the corporation. Boards of directors usually include major owners, top executives from similar corporations or corporations located in the same area, financial and legal advisors, and the three or four officers who run the corporation on a daily basis. Several studies show that those 15-20% of corporate directors who sit on two or more boards, who are called the "inner circle" of the corporate directorate, unite 80-90% of the largest corporations in the United States into a well-connected "corporate community."
Most all social scientists agree that corporations have a strong basis for cohesion.

So members of the upper class have power based on their wealth, and corporate executives have organizational power. Contrary to the claim of some, that there is a division between owners and managers, I think there is strong evidence for the idea of great overlap in membership and interest between the upper class and the corporate community. The wealthiest and most cohesive upper-class families often have "family offices" through which they can bring to bear the concentrated power of their collective stock ownership, sometimes placing employees of the office on boards of directors. Then too, members of the upper class often control corporations through financial devices known as "holding companies," which purchase a controlling interest in operating companies. More generally, members of the upper class own roughly half of all corporate stock . Then too, upper-class control of corporations can be seen in its over-representation on boards of directors. Several past studies show that members of the upper class sit on boards far more than would be expected by chance. They are especially likely to be part of the "inner circle" that has two or more directorships. According to the "who governs" power indicator, the upper class absolutely controls the corporate community.
Government Policy Is Shaped From Outside Government
The upper class and the closely related corporate community do not stand alone at the top of the power structure. They are supplemented by a wide range of nonprofit organizations that play an important role in framing debates over public policy and in shaping public opinion. These organizations are often called "nonpartisan" or "bipartisan" because they are not officially identified with politics or with either of the two major political parties. But they are the real "political party" of the upper class in terms of insuring their stability and domination of society and the compliance of government to their wishes.
Upper-class and corporate dominance of the major nonprofit organizations can be seen in their founding by wealthy members of the upper class and in their reliance on large corporations for their funding. However, dominance is once again most readily demonstrated through studies of boards of directors, which have ultimate control of the organizations, including the ability to hire and fire top executives. These studies show that members of the upper class are greatly over-represented on the boards of these organizations, and that nonprofit organizations share a large number of directors in common with the corporate community, particularly directors who are part of the "inner circle." In effect, most large nonprofit organizations are merely part of the corporate community.
All the organizations in the nonprofit sector have a hand in creating the framework of the society in one way or another, and hence in helping to shape the political climate. The cultural and civic organizations set the standard for what is beautiful, important, and "classy." The elite universities play a determine what is important to teach, learn, and research, and they train most of the professionals and experts in the country. However, it is the foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion organizations that have the largest, most direct, and important influence. Their ideas, criticisms, and policy suggestions go out to the general public through a wide array of avenues, including pamphlets, books, local discussion groups, mass media, endless internet sites and echo chamber blogs as well as the public relations departments of major corporations. The foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion organizations function as a "policy-planning network."

Tax-free foundations receive their money from wealthy families and corporations. Their primary purpose is to provide money for education, research, and policy discussion. They have the power to encourage those ideas and researchers they find compatible with their personal goals, and to withhold funds from others. Support by major foundations often has had a significant impact on the direction of research in agriculture, social science, and the health sciences. However, foundations also create policy projects on their own. The role of the think tanks is to suggest new policies to deal with the problems facing the economy and government. They do so using money from wealthy donors, corporations, and foundations, think tanks hire the experts groomed by the graduate departments of  particular elite universities. These policy-discussion organizations are the hub of the policy-planning network. They bring together wealthy individuals, corporate executives, experts, and government officials for lectures, forums, meetings, and group discussions of issues that range from the local to the international, and from the economic to the political to the cultural. New ideas are tried out in weekly or monthly discussion groups, and differences of opinion are aired and compromised. These structured discussion groups usually begin with a presentation by the invited experts, followed by questions and discussion involving all participants. Such discussion groups may range in size from ten to 50, with the usual group having fifteen to 25 members.
The many discussion groups that take place within the several policy-discussion organizations have several functions that do not readily meet the eye. First, these organizations help to familiarize  corporate leaders with policy options outside the view of their day-to-day business concerns. This gives these executives the ability to influence public opinion through the mass media and other outlets, to argue with and influence experts, and to accept appointments for government service. Second, the policy-discussion organizations give members of the upper class and corporate community the opportunity to see which of their colleagues become the best natural leaders through watching them in the give and take of the discussion groups. They can see which of their counterparts understand the issues quickly, offer their own ideas, facilitate discussions, and relate well to experts. The organizations thus serve as sorting and screening mechanisms for the emergence of new leadership for the corporate rich in general.
Third, these organizations disseminate their participants to the media and public as knowledgeable experts or leaders who deserve to be tapped for public service because they have used their free time to acquaint themselves with the issues in nonpartisan forums. The organizations thereby help make wealthy individuals and corporate executives into "national leaders" and "statesmen." Finally, these organizations provide a forum wherein members of the upper class and corporate community can come to know policy experts. This gives them a pool of people from which they can draw advisors if they are asked to serve in government. It also gives them a basis for recommending experts to politicians for government service.
The organizations also serve obvious functions for the experts. First, presenting their ideas and policies to these organizations gives them an opportunity to have influence. Second, it gives them a chance to advance their own careers if they can impress the upper-class and corporate participants.

The policy-planning network is not totally homogeneous. There are basically two ideologies represented. There are moderate-conservative and ultra-conservative wings within it. Moderate conservatives may favor foreign aid, low tariffs, and increased economic expansion overseas, whereas the ultra-conservatives tend to see foreign aid as a giveaway. Moderate conservatives tend to accept the idea that governmental taxation and spending policies can be used to stimulate and stabilize the economy, but ultra-conservatives insist that taxes should be cut to the very minimum and that government spending is the devil. Moderate conservatives accept some welfare-state measures, or at least they support such measures in the face of serious social disruption. Where ultra-conservatives have consistently opposed any welfare spending, claiming that it destroys moral fiber and saps individual initiative, so they prefer to use arrest and detention when faced with social unrest.
The reasons for these differences are not well understood. There is a tendency for the moderate-conservative organizations to be directed by executives from the very largest and most internationally oriented of corporations, but there are numerous exceptions to that generalization. Moreover, there are corporations that support policy organizations within both camps. However, for all their differences, leaders within the two clusters of policy organizations have a tendency to search for compromise due to their common membership in the upper-class and corporate community. When compromise is not possible, the final resolution of policy conflicts often takes place in legislative struggles in Congress.
The existence of the policy-planning network provides evidence for yet another form of power possessed by the wealthy few: expertise on social and political issues. It is an important complement to the naked economic power possessed by the corporations. One that plays a larger role in directing and forming public opinion as time goes on.

The Power Elite
Now that the upper class, corporate community, and policy-planning network have been defined and described, it is possible to discuss the the "power elite."The power elite is the leadership group of the upper class. It consists of active-working members of the upper class and high-level employees in profit and nonprofit institutions controlled by members of the upper class through stock ownership, financial support, or involvement on the board of directors. This does not mean that all members of the upper class are involved in governing. Some are only playboys and socialites; their social gatherings may provide a setting where members of the power elite mingle with celebrities, and sometimes they give money to political candidates, but that is about as close as they come to political power.
Conversely, not all those involved in the power elite are members of the upper class. They are sons and daughters of the middle class, and occasionally, the blue-collar working class, who do well at any one of several hundred private and state universities, and then go to grad school, MBA school, or law school at one of a handful of elite universities -- e.g., Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, and Stanford. From there they go to work for a major corporation, law firms, foundations, think tanks, or universities, and slowly work their way into the 'elite' group.
The idea of the power elite intertwines class theory and organizational theory, two theories which are often thought of as distinctive or even as rivals. The basis for the intertwining of the two theories is to be found in the role and composition of the boards of directors that govern every large profit and nonprofit organization in the United States. It is on boards of directors that the values and goals of the upper class are integrated with those of the organizational hierarchy. Upper-class directors insure that their interests are infused into the organizations they control, but the day-to-day organizational leaders on the board are able to harmonize class interests with organizational principles.
It is important to stress that not all experts are members of the power elite. People have to be high-level employees in institutions controlled by members of the upper class to be considered part of that realm. Receiving a fellowship from a foundation, spending a year at a think tank, or giving advice to a policy-discussion organization does not make a person a member of the power elite. It also may be useful to note that there are many experts who never go near the policy-planning network. They focus on their teaching and research, or work for groups that oppose the policies of the power elite.

Direct Control Of Government
Members of the power elite directly involve themselves in the federal government through three basic processes, each of which has a slightly different role in ensuring "access" to the White House, Congress, and specific agencies, departments, and committees in the executive branch. Although some of the same people are involved in all three processes, most leaders specialize in one or two of the three processes. These three processes are:
  1. The special-interest process, through which specific families, corporations, and industrial sectors are able to realize their narrow and short-run interests on taxes, subsidies, and regulation in their dealings with congressional committees, regulatory bodies, and executive departments;
  2. The policy-making process, through which the policies developed in the policy-planning network described earlier are brought to the White House and Congress;
  3. The candidate selection process, through which members of the power elite influence electoral campaigns by means of campaign donations to political candidates.
Power elite domination of the federal government can be seen most directly in the workings of the corporate lobbyists, backroom super-lawyers, and industry-wide trade associations that represent the interests of specific corporations or business sectors. This special-interest process is based in varying combinations of information, gifts, insider dealing, friendship, and, not least, promises of lucrative private jobs in the future for compliant government officials. This is the aspect of business-government relations described by journalists and social scientists in their case studies. While these studies show that the special interests usually get their way, the conflict that sometimes erupts within this process, occasionally pitting one corporate sector against another, reinforces the image of widely shared and fragmented power in America, including the image of a divided corporate community. Moreover, there are some defeats suffered by the corporate rich in the special-interest process. For example, laws that improved auto safety standards were passed over automobile industry objections in the 1970s, as were standards of water cleanliness opposed by the paper and chemical industries.
Policies of concern to the corporate community as a whole are not the province of the special-interest process. Instead, such policies come from the network of foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion organizations. The plans developed in the organizations of the policy-planning network reach the federal government in a variety of ways. On the most general level, their reports, news releases, and interviews are read by elected officials and their staffs, either in pamphlet form or in summary articles in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. Members of the policy-planning network also testify before congressional committees and subcommittees that are writing legislation or preparing budget proposals. More directly, leaders from these organizations are regular members of the dozens of little-known committees that advise specific departments of the executive branch on general policies, making them in effect unpaid un-elected temporary members of the government. They are also very prominent on the extremely important presidential commissions that are appointed to make recommendations on a wide range of issues from foreign policy to highway construction. They also serve on the little-known federal advisory committees that are part of just about every department of the executive branch.
Finally, and crucially, they are appointed to government positions with a frequency far beyond what would be expected by chance. Several different studies show that top cabinet positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations are held by members of the upper class and corporate executives who are leaders in policy-discussion organizations.
The general picture that emerges from the findings on the over-representation of members of the power elite in appointed governmental positions is that the highest levels of the executive branch are interlocked constantly with the upper class and corporate community through the movement of executives and lawyers in and out of government. Although the same person is not in governmental and corporate positions at the same time, there is enough continuity for the relationship to be described as one of "revolving interlocks." Corporate leaders resign their numerous directorships in profit and nonprofit organizations to serve in government for two or three years, then return to the corporate community or policy-planning network. This system gives them temporary independence from the narrow concerns of their own organizations and allows them to perform the more general roles they have learned in the policy-discussion groups. They then return to the private sector with useful personal contacts and information.
As important as the special-interest and policy-planning processes are for the power elite, they could not operate successfully if there were not sympathetic, business-oriented elected officials in government. That leads us to the third process through which members of the power elite dominate the federal government, the candidate-selection process. It operates through the two major political parties. For reasons to be discussed in a moment, the two parties have very little role in political education or policy formation; they are reduced to the function of filling offices. That is why the American political system can be characterized as a "candidate-selection process."
The main reason the political system focuses on candidate selection to the relative exclusion of political education and policy formulation is that there can be only two main parties due to the structure of the government and the nature of the electoral rules. The fact that Americans select a president instead of a parliament, and elect legislators from "single-member" geographical areas (states for the Senate, districts for the House) leads to a two-party system because in these "winner-take-all" elections a vote for a third party is a vote for the person's least desired choice. A vote for a very liberal party instead of the Democrats, for example, actually helps the Republicans. Under these rules, the most sensible strategy for both the Democrats and Republicans is to blur their policy differences in order to compete for the voters with middle-of-the-road policy views, or no policy views at all.
Contrary to what many believe, then, American political parties are not very responsive to voter preferences. Their candidates are fairly free to say one thing to get elected and to do another once in office. This contributes to confusion and apathy in the electorate. It leads to campaigns where there are no "issues" except "images" and "personalities" even when polls show that voters are extremely concerned about certain policy issues.
It is precisely because the candidate-selection process is so personalized, and therefore dependent on name recognition, images, and emotional symbolism, that it can be in good part dominated by members of the power elite through the relatively simple and direct means of large campaign contributions. Playing the role of donors and money raisers, the same people who direct corporations and take part in the policy-planning network have a crucial place in the careers of most politicians who advance beyond the local level or state legislatures. Their support is especially important in party primaries, where money is an even larger factor than in general elections.
The two-party system therefore results in elected officials who are relatively issueless and willing to go along with the policies advocated by those members of the power elite who work in the special-interest and policy-planning processes. They are motivated by personal ambition far more than they are by political conviction. Still, there are some extremely conservative elected Republicans who often oppose power elite proposals, claiming that such policies are the work of secret communists or pointy-headed intellectuals out to wreck the "free enterprise" system. There also are many Democrats from blue-collar and university districts who consistently oppose power elite policies as members of the liberal-labor coalition. However, both the ultra-conservatives and the liberals are outnumbered by the "moderates" of both parties, especially in key leadership positions in Congress. After many years in Congress the elected liberals decide to "go along to get along." "This place has a way of grinding you down," explained Abner  Mikva  a former liberal Congressman of the early 1970s in a classic summary of what happens.

Although members of the power elite are far and away the most important financial backers for both parties, this does not mean that there are no differences between the two parties. The leadership levels have intra-class differences, and the supporters tend to have inter-class differences. The Republican Party is controlled by the wealthiest families of the upper class and corporate community, who are largely Protestant in background. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is the party of the "fringes" of the upper class and power elite. Although often called "the party of the common person," it was in fact the party of the Southern segment of the upper class until civil rights issues chased them away. The power of the Southern Democrats in the party and in Congress was secured in a variety of ways, the most important of which was the seniority system for selecting committee chairs in Congress. (By tradition, the person who has been on the committee longest just about automatically becomes the chair; this avoids conflict among members of the party.) However, the underlying point is that the one-party system in the South and the exclusion of African-Americans from the voting booth until the mid-1960s gave the Southern planters and merchants power at the national level through the Democratic Party out of all proportion to their wealth and numbers. Thus, it is not necessarily the wealthiest people who rule. The nature of the political system also enters into the equation. But the Southern elites are not poor; they are only less rich than many of their Northern counterparts. The Southerners dominated the Democratic Party in alliance with the "ethnic rich" in the North, meaning essentially wealthy Jews and Catholics who were shunned or mistreated by the rich Protestants in the Republican party. The businesses they owned were often local or smaller than those of the Republican backers, and they usually were excluded from the social institutions of the upper class. These ethnic rich were the primary financial supporters of the infamous "political machines" that dominated Democratic politics in most large northern cities.
The alliance between the Southern segment of the upper class and the Northern ethnic rich usually was able to freeze out the policy initiatives of the party's liberal-labor coalition through its control of congressional committees, although there was a time (1940 to 1975) when labor unions had significant influence on the Democrats. When that alliance broke down because the machine Democrats sided with the liberals and labor, then the Southern Democrats joined with Northern Republicans to create the "conservative coalition," AKA "the conservative voting bloc," wherein a majority of Southern Democrats and a majority of Northern Republicans voted together against the Northern Democrats. This conservative coalition most often formed around the issues that reflect class conflict in the legislative arena -- civil rights, union rights, social welfare, and business regulation. Legislation on any of these issues weakens employers in the face of workers and their unions, so it is not surprising that the conservative coalition is based on the shared interests of Northern and Southern employers. This alliance won far more often than it lost in the years between 1937, when it was formed, and the 1990s, when it disappeared for the simple reason that many of the Southerners had become Republicans.
Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was in effect, the Democratic Party was slowly changed because African-Americans in the South were able to vote against the worst racists in the party primaries. The gradual industrialization also was causing changes. As a result of these two forces, Southern whites started to move into the Republican Party, which thus became the party of wealthy employers in both the North and South. In that context, the Democratic Party is slowly becoming what many always thought it to be, the party of liberals, minorities, workers, and the poor.
In summary, the special-interest process, policy-planning process, and campaign finance make it possible for the power elite to win far more often than it loses on the policy issues that come before the federal government. The power elite is also greatly over-represented in appointed positions, presidential blue-ribbon commissions, and advisory committees within the government. In terms of both the "who wins" and "who governs" power indicators, the power elite dominates the federal government.

However, this domination does not mean control on each and every issue, or lack of opposition, and it does not rest upon government involvement alone. Involvement in government is only the final and most visible aspect of power elite domination, which has its roots in the class structure, the nature of the economy, and the functioning of the policy-planning network. If government officials did not have to wait on corporate leaders to decide where and when they will invest, and if government officials were not further limited by the acceptance of the current economic arrangements, then power elite involvement in elections and government would count for a lot less than it does under present conditions.
There are many democratic countries where the working class -- defined as all those white-collar and blue-collar workers who earn a salary or a wage -- has more power than it does in the United States. This power is achieved primarily through labor unions and political parties. It is reflected in more egalitarian wealth and income distributions, a more equitable tax structure, better public health services, subsidized housing, and higher old-age and unemployment benefits.
How is it possible that the American working class could be relatively powerless in a country that prides itself on its long-standing history of pluralism and elections? There are several interacting historical factors. First, the "primary producers" in the United States, those who work with their hands in factories and fields, were more seriously divided among themselves until the 1930s than in most other countries. The deepest and most important of these divisions was between whites and African-Americans. In the beginning, of course, the African-Americans had no social power because of their enslavement, which meant that there was no way to organize workers in the South. But even after African-Americans gained their freedom, prejudices in the white working class kept the two groups apart.
This black/white split in the working class was reinforced by later conflicts between craft workers -- also called "skilled" workers -- and industrial workers -- also called mass-production or "unskilled" workers. Craft workers usually tried to keep their wages high by excluding industrial workers. Their sense of superiority as skilled workers was reinforced by the fact that they were of Northern European, Protestant origins and the industrial workers tended to be Catholics and Jews from Eastern and Southern Europe. Some African-Americans were also found in the ranks of the industrial workers, along with other racial minorities.
It would have been difficult enough to overcome these divisions even if workers had been able to develop their own political party, but they were unable to develop such a party because the electoral system greatly disadvantages third parties. Workers were stuck. They had no place to go but the Republicans or Democrats. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the craft workers often supported the Democrats, while the recent immigrant industrial workers tended to support the Republicans. Even when craft and industrial workers moved into the Democratic Party en masse in the 1930s, they couldn't control the party because of the power of the wealthy Southern planters and merchants.
Nor did the workers have much luck organizing themselves through unions. The employers were able to call upon the government to crush organizing drives and strikes through both court injunctions and police arrests. This was not only because employers had great influence with politicians then, just as they do now, but because the American tradition of law, based in laissez faire (free market) liberalism, was so fiercely opposed to any "restraint of trade" or "interference" with private property. It was not until the 1930s that the liberal-labor coalition was able to pass legislation guaranteeing workers the right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. Even this advance was only possible by excluding the Southern workforce -- i.e., agricultural and seasonal labor -- from the purview of the legislation.
Industrial unions were defeated almost completely in the South and Southwest.
Unions thrived in a few major industries in the North in the years after World War II, but then their power was eroded beginning in the 1970s as the big corporations moved their factories to other countries or lost market share to European and Japanese companies culminating with the absolute all out war on American laborers since the 1990s.  Given this history of internal division, political frustration, and union defeat,  American workers continue to accept the highly individualistic ideology that has characterized the United States since its founding. This acceptance in turn makes it even more difficult to organize workers around "bread-and-butter" issues. They often vote instead on the basis of bait issues or religious convictions, with those who are deeply religious, opposed to affirmative action, or opposed to gun control voting for the avowedly anti-union anti-worker Republican Party.

We must not confuse freedom with social power.
Between 1962 and the 1990s there was a great expansion in individual rights due to the civil rights, feminist, and lesbian-gay movements, but during that time the ratio of a top business executive's pay to a factory worker's pay increased from 41 to 1 to about 300 to 1. American workers can say what they want and do what they want within very broad limits, and their children can study hard in school so they can go to graduate school and join the well-off professional class as doctors, lawyers, architects, or engineers, but when it comes to social power the vast majority of Americans have very little of it and have no real path to becoming a part of the power elite. The economic division has only gotten far worse since the 1990s.

So who benefits? Who sits? Who wins?
All the indicators point to only one conclusion.
You know the answer.
It isn't you.
So Why Are The Rich And The Businessmen Moaning?
Despite these various kinds of objective evidence that the power elite have nearly absolute power in relation to the federal government, we witness many corporate leaders claiming that they are relatively powerless in the face of government. To hear them tell it, Congress is more responsive to organized labor, environmentalists, and consumers. They also claim to be harassed by willful and arrogant bureaucrats. These negative feelings toward government are not a new development, contrary to those who blame the New Deal and the social programs of the 1960s. A study of businessmen's views in the 19th century found that they believed political leaders to be "stupid" and "empty" people who went into politics only to earn a living, and a study of businessmen's views during what are thought of as their most powerful decade, the 1920s, found the exact same mistrust of government.

The emotional expressions of business leaders about their lack of power cannot be taken seriously as a power indicator
 This is little more than childish emotional outburst...entirely based on their feelings and not in any tangible reality. It may be a psychological uneasiness with power. Feelings are one thing, the effects of one's actions another. But it is difficult to try to understand why businessmen complain about a government they completely dominate.
  I imagine complaining about government is a useful political strategy.
It puts government officials on the defensive and forces them to keep proving that they are friendly to business. Also, businessmen complain about government because in fact very few civil servants are part of the upper class and corporate community. The anti-government ideology in the United States tends to restrain members of the upper class from government careers except in the State Department, meaning that the main contacts for members of the power elite within government are at the very top. There is uncertainty and mistrust about how the middle levels will react to new situations, and therefore a feeling that there is a necessity to "ride herd" on or "reign in" the potentially troublesome "bureaucrats" who are not necessarily in their pocket.
There also seems to be an ideological level to the business leaders' attitudes toward government. There is a fear of the populist, democratic ideology that underlies American government. Since power is (in theory only) in the hands of all the people, there always is the possibility that someday "the people," in the sense of the majority, will make the government into the reflection of pluralist democracy that it is actually supposed to be. In a very real way the great power of the upper class and corporate community are culturally illegitimate, and the existence of their power is always vigorously denied. It is okay to be rich, and even to brag about wealth a little bit, but to flaunt that power becomes problematic, and they sense that. It's a sort of masquerade, maybe even one that due to limited experience with the reality 99% of people have to deal with, they actually believe is so.
Finally, the expressions of anguish from individual corporate leaders concerning their powerlessness also suggests an explanation in terms of the intersection of social psychology and sociology. It is the upper class and corporate community that have power, not individuals  within that community. Apart from their institutional context psychologically they feel powerless.
As individuals, they feel hurt that they are not always listened to, and that they have to convince their peers of the reasonableness of their arguments before any actions are taken.
Moreover, policy that is adopted is a group decision, and it is sometimes hard for people to identify with group actions to the point where they feel personally powerful. It is not surprising then, that specific individuals might actually feel powerless within the context of this monied and powerful group which is the only experience they have.
Consider for a moment the absurdity of the powerful & privileged Donald Trump representing a revolt against the privileged and powerful. He champions 'populist' causes such as complaining about the bad trade deals made, yet if you look at what little specifics he offers, his "deals" are no more beneficial domestically to workers. They favor the same people who benefited from the original deals & his record of manufacturing his namesake goods is the same as the people he demonizes on the campaign trail. He claims to represent the "common" people's interest in "helping" the middle class.
Yet his economic proposals only give even more tax cuts to the wealthiest such as himself...many of whom (Trump included) don't pay federal taxes at all thanks to their ability to write the tax codes in their favor through their power structure. I have no idea personally why Trump is doing this, other than I imagine his ego is just so big he feels he needs a crown to wear. Maybe, in terms of the power structure allowing this absurd charade, it's a way to control the anger of the electorate. Certainly something similar occurred with the "Tea Party". Media and folks like the Koch brothers, guided and financed that "rebellion" which used frustrated angry voters to put candidates friendly to Koch industry wants in government. One thing I can tell you is that any political operative who inherited a fortune, who owns 600,000 dollar portraits of themselves (which they charged to an alleged "charity") and sits on gold chairs and toilets has no understanding of what could possibly improve the lot of a working family and little or no interest in doing so. With all the evidence presented here that the power is in the hands of such people, why on earth would they want to be the "face" of it and in what universe would they fight against themselves?
Why would they want even more power?
Well that's another discussion.
The Nature Of Greed.


"Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle." - Noam Chomsky

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:

More Than Economics
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s ego may be larger than the size of his real estate empire, but that doesn’t mean he leads a happy satisfying life...or enjoys mental health. Indeed the extreme wealth inequity the US system has produced also tends to produce psychopathologies.
  On the other hand, the self-esteem of people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, or become  unemployed tends to erode as well. Research from UC Berkeley has revealed this mind-wallet connection. The Study finds self-worth plays a key role in the development of mental disorders. Researchers concluded that one’s perceived social status or the lack thereof; is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses. Researchers have linked inflated or deflated feelings of self-worth to such afflictions as bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, anxiety and depression, providing yet more evidence that the chasm of ever widening distance between rich and poor is also bad for your health.
Moreover, the richest of the rich think differently than the rest of us, see themselves differently than the rest of us see them, and inhabit an alternate reality exclusive to themselves.  In other words, they function very much like any 16th century European aristocracy.  Oh yeah, and they're deeply paranoid.

Extreme inequality, it turns out, creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality — and simultaneously gives these people great power.

Today’s Masters of the Power Universe are insecure about the nature of their success. We’re not talking captains of industry here in modern times folks, not men who make stuff.
We are, instead, talking about wheeler-dealers, men who push money around and get rich by skimming off the top as it sloshes by.
They boast that they are job creators, the people who make the economy work.
But that is a blatant lie. Many of us know it — and so, I suspect, do some of the wealthy themselves, as a form of self-doubt causes them to lash out even more furiously at their critics.
Unlike the robber barons of the past age, the endeavors of these people simply DO NOT really add any value whatsoever to the economy.



Kendall, D. (2002). The power of good deeds: Privileged women and the social reproduction of class. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Wrong, D. (1995). Power: Its Forms, Bases, and Uses (2nd ed.). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy: Corporate Dominance from the Great Depression to the Great Recession

by G. Williams Domhoff

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