lesson two - the political economy of war

Chapter Two Breakdown
Power in the United States: Who Rules?
The Power Elite Perspective
The Business Dominance Perspective
The Structuralist Perspective
Political Alienation
Toward the Democratic Ideal
• Schools fail to distinguish between democratic
ideals and political realities:
– Why?
Schools are agents of political socialization
Power in the United States: Who Rules?
• The Pluralist Perspective
– Power is equally distributed in the US
– No one group is politically dominant
– The US is a democratic nation
• People’s Beliefs about Political Power
The Pluralist Perspective
• Elaborated upon by David Riesman’s book: The Lonely Crowd
• Distribution of power among competing and contending interest groups
• No one group dominates at all times or is even interested in all matters of
national policy
• The federal government does not side with any one group, in other words
the economy and the state are not linked
• In order to gain strength, the groups must appeal to the citizenry, the
government acts as fair arbiter that regulates the competition for the
greater good
• Inequality in wealth among groups and people is ignored by this
• Riesman used to term Veto Groups for those
groups that can counter people of wealth and
power in order to veto policies that might
affect their interests.
• The wealthy are just like any other group
• The U.S. is a ‘middle class’ country.
People’s Beliefs about Political Power
• Surveys conducted on people’s beliefs about political and economic
power in the U.S. find that significant number of people do not believe
in the pluralist perspective.
• The Muskegon Studies (1960s): rich, middle class and poor selected for
surveys. Asked questions about who runs the country: 1. No one group
2. Military, political and economic elite 3.Big Businessmen
– 1. Pluralist position (3/5) 2. Power Elite perspective
(1/5), 3. Business dominance perspective (1/5)
• The higher the income the more likely that
participants would choose the pluralist perspective
• Statements B and C were mostly picked by the poor
those whose reality of everyday life did not lend
credibility to pluralism
– 10 years after the Muskegon study (1978), Steven
Stack conducted a study in which 3/4ths showed
support for the Power Elite perspective.
Polls on Attitudes toward Government
– 2003 poll, 70% of respondents agreed that “this country’s political system
is so controlled by special interests and partisanship that it cannot
respond to the country’s real needs”
– 75% agreed that “ elected officials in Washington lose touch with the
people very quickly
– Political alienation and less confidence in the government
• How does all of this fit in with democracy?
Polls on Attitudes toward Business
– They are big and influential
– Business and industry should be under private control
– Confidence in major corporations down from 55 to 8 percent between
• Group pluralism — democratic society is composed of
1. wide variety of interest groups that 2. develop around
specific needs or interests and 3. each competes to get
what it wants.
• According to this view, 4. the state is NEUTRAL
referee, and simply mediates and makes sure demands
are balanced. Competition is “fair” 5. Each groups
power is diluted because people belong to many
overlapping groups. 6. Society is balanced because
everyone agrees that there are certain basic rules. When
some interest groups don’t address needs 7. others arise
and so this problem is corrected. Interest groups waiting
to come into existence are Potential Interest Groups.
1.Group pluralists assume that groups have the same strength,
membership and power. Are interest groups representing
the homeless as powerful as the NRA?
2.They are ambiguous at best when they claim that “group
interests” are the same as the “common good”. Is gun
ownership a “common good”? Is weak environmental
control a “common good”?
3. Potential interest groups, groups that don’t yet exist but
might come into existence if needs aren't addressed- is
speculation at best. A belief in “ghosts” that might
materialize and rescue us. Facts show that troubles and
issues persist over generations and these “ghosts” never
4. Ignores the importance of resource mobilization and
ownership in the power possessed by interest groups. Those
who control the resources can mobilize the strongest groups
and get the results they desire. Similar to economic
 Elite Pluralism Theory — Competing elected (political) elites coexist
and compromise to achieve balanced government for the common
good. If they don’t deliver they are driven out of office by voters, who
elect others who will fix their troubles.
 1. Does not explain major decisions by non- elected (economic and
other) elites, members of think tanks and policy committees, corp.
execs, financial chiefs, members of cabinets etc, who are the real
architects of national and foreign policy and major decisions?
 2. Does not explain why major social problems continue to exist over
generations, if the system is balanced and self-correcting.
 3. Doesn’t explain why there is voter alienation or apathy.
 4. Doesn’t explain how major decisions are made before any voting
takes place e.g. campaign issues, candidates that will represent the
party, campaign procedures, funding etc
 5. Doesn’t explain how all elections are rigged against third party
candidates from the start through media, coverage, funds, debates etc.
 6. A two party state is not too different from a one party state like the
Soviet Union, two is not much of a PLURAL-ITY!
• Power elite theory — select or elite group of
individuals, that occupy the dominant
positions in the dominant institutions of the
dominant country ,ensuring that their
interests prevail over all others. Word coined
by C. W. Mills in his 1956 book, “The Power
The Power Elite is composed of men whose positions enable
them to transcend the ordinary environments of everyday men and
women; they are in positions to make decisions having major
consequences…For they are in command of the major
hierarchies and organizations of modern society…They occupy
the strategic command posts of the social structure, in which are
now centered the effective means of the power and…wealth.".
• Video on power elite-
Power Elite Theory
– 1. Class identity — sense of belonging to a
particular economic class resulting from shared
life experiences. They possess class consciousnessconsider themselves separate from the rest of
society ( and superior), and treat each other
different than how they treat the rest of us.
– 2. Co-optation — socialization of prospective and
new members of power elite so they share the
worldview of that elite. Only those that are
socialized/co-opted are allowed in-
Power Elite Theory
– 3. Interchangeability of elites — mobility of
power elite members from one institutional
sphere of influence to another- e.g. from the
military to the economic to the political etc excorporate execs coming into the political arena
and filling major posts e.g. Rumsfeld, Cheney etc,
and military leaders going into industry that gets
military contracts or politics like Powell, Wesley
Clark; also the interlocking directorates of
corporations with the director of one serving on
the board of another corporation as well.
• 4. Community of Interests- they might differ and
disagree on specifics but on broad/larger issues of
global and national significance they have an alliance
• 5. Military Metaphysic: The military definition of
reality, related to a permanent war economy, huge
military budgets, keeping threats alive to feed that
budget and protection of raw materials and
multinationals abroad
Power Elite Theory
• A Power Elite Analysis of the State-Economy
– Power elite theorists suggest the state is not
neutral or independent
• Heavily influenced by capital and corporate interests,
promote the military metaphysic, the military definition
of reality, thus the military institution becomes
dominant as well.
C.W. Mills and the Power Elite- summary
• The Power Elite, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, involves
the 1. “uneasy coincidence of economic, military and
political power” (Mills 1956:278), where 2. chosen elites
move within and between the three institutional structures.
The Power Elite as Mills pointed out possesses a 3. specific
and clear ‘class consciousness’ and unique image of self as
a psychological fact, regardless of ideological label or party
membership. Factions might exist among the Power Elite
but their coinciding 4. “community of interests” and the
resulting inner discipline bind them together even across
differences (Mills 1956:283).
• Given these forces that are at play among them,
the way they have emerged and the 5.
institutions that have shaped them, it is
impossible for them to break away from the
corporate world and its interests in the decisions
they make while in public office. Their 6. world
view, shaped by these institutions, prevents them
from seeing things differently.
• What is that worldview called?- Exam Question
• Answer= ______________.
• Intersection of political, economic and military:
“It is in the continual preparation for war that the power elite now finds the
major basis for the furthering of the several and coinciding interests of its
members…The expectation of war solves many problems of the “crackpot
realists” (Mills, The Power Elite)
• 1991 Gulf War: who benefited Oil Profits/Military Industrial
Sales/ Savings & Loan distraction/ End of the cold war against
the Soviets, new justification for the MIC needed.
Voting: Who Participates?
• Pluralists emphasize the importance of elections and voting
• Power elite theorists argue that voters vote after major
decisions have already been made i.e. by committees who
select their candidates, the one’s who can raise the most
money, rigging elections against third party candidates etc.
Campaign formation, candidate selection, and party agenda
and support, media coverage are important aspects of the
electoral process but occur without any participation from
the public for the most part.
• Voting just gives the “appearance” that people are
empowered while in reality those that come to power, the
power elite are a uniform group of people, coming from
similar backgrounds having a similar social profile and make
more or less similar decisions.
Identifying the Power Elite
• Three major components
– Big business and the corporate rich
• i.e. the economic elite
– Top military officials
• i.e. the military elite
– The executive branch of the government
• i.e. the political elite
1. Concentration of private ownership and domination of
2. Development of a permanent war establishment
3. The existence of a political vacuum that was filled by
military men and corporate executives at the very top
with Congress reduced to middle levels of power
4. The massification of society at the bottom due to
manipulation that leads to little demands on the
powerful and political apathy
The Business Dominance Perspective
• Notes the relationship between class
inequality and distribution of political power
• Marx’s Ruling Class: The State is a committee
for managing the common affairs of the
bourgeoisie, i.e. the government functions in
the interest of a particular social class.
• The Social Upper Class: the social group that enjoys the greatest status
and prestige in U.S. society.
– Members of the ‘high society’ that are listed in social registers
maintained in major U.S. cities
– There are specific institutions that cater to their needs: private school,
universities, clubs and resorts etc
– Members of this class sense themselves “different” to others who do
not belong in their group, because of similarity of life experience and
institutions they attend they tend to intermarry among their own
– There is great overlap between those that are considered high in
status terms and those that possess the greatest wealth: in other
words the social elite are also the economic elite to a large extent.
• This social and economic ‘upper class’ are also the governing class:
– G. William Domhoff defined the governing class as “ a social and
economic upper class that owns a disproportionate amount of the
country’s wealth, received a disproportionate amount of the
country’s yearly income, and contributes a disproportionate
number of its members to the controlling institutions and key
decision-making groups of the country.”
– Financing a political campaign requires a lot of money. Upper class
people, those with the most wealth that do finance poltical
campaigns tend to support people that do not threaten upperclass interests.
– Appointees to keep posts in the President’s cabinet, judiciary and
national bureaucracy tend to disproportionately from the upper
class or are rewarde, “coopted upwards” based on how well they
have served upper class interests in the past
According to Mills’ power elite there is no ‘democracy’ in the U.S. since
people’s thoughts are manipulated through control of information,
financing of elections and non-democratic appointments to key decision
making posts, the two party monopoly etc.
According to Domhoff and his ‘business dominance perspective’
democracy does exist in the U.S. but it is to be found in the splits among
the governing class itself. The governing class is composed of the social
and economic elite and their helpers. People in this class differ among
themselves on what aspects of their privileged ‘status quo’ they want to
The Structuralism Perspective
• The proponents of the structuralist perspective do not deny
that a few at the top weild power but they claim that those
at the top are constrained in how they decide due to the
needs of the current structure that happens to be a
corporatized capitalist economy
• From Free Enterprise to “Corporate Capitalism”
– As the economy has changed from a free enterprise, mom and
pop style capitalsm of the mid 19th century to corporate
capitalism post Civil War where a few corporations now
dominate all product and service areas
• Less than 1% of all corporations account for over 80%
of the total output of the private sector (Michael
Parenti 1995)
• Concentration of economic power in the United States:
– 4300 individuals i.e. 4300/300,000,000 *100= 0.001% of
the U.S. population, own about one half of the country’s
assets, two thirds of banking assets, one half of all
communication and utilities, and more than two thirds of
all insurance assets…the reason : corporate consolidation
of industrial and financial assets in a small number of
giant corporations. (Thomas Dye 1995)
• According to the structuralism perspective, when the few
corporations become so dominant in production and
employment of individuals, it does not matter who the elite
are this system has to be preserved in order to protect the
nations’s assets and people’s jobs. No matter who runs the
government, upper class or not they will make similar
decisions in preserving the status quo to maintain a healthy
economic order- the interests of the capitalist class are thus
“naturally served”.
• When the needs of the public are at odds with the needs of
the capitalists even then decisions are made to benefit the
capitalists with a claim of ‘trickle down’ benefits eventually
getting to the public.
• How would you criticize this perspective?
– Are decisions made merely to ‘preserve’ the
corporate economy or are they made to
successively enhance the power of the corporate
economy even if it harms the public? Is the
structure changing to further strengthen the
power of the corporations or merely maintaining
Political Alienation
• Democracy requires that the public takes part
in decisions that affect their lives, in choosing
their leaders and making informed decisions
• Political Nonparticipation: Political alienation:
People who are politically alienated feel that
the system does not address issues that are
important to them and so they do not
– In political apathy: they do not care about the
• The turnout in presidential elections is low but
in Congressional elections it is even lower. Low
turnout combined with surveys of people’s
satisfaction levels with government reveals
that: declining turnouts are a result of
cynicism and disgust over the workings of the
political system.
• The Influence of the “New Right”
– The apathy and alientation of the many has led to
the few “active” conservative participants to step
• The New Right’s history can be traced to the great depression when
conservatives opposed FDR’s “New Deal’ Policies.
– The New Deal rescued capitalism from collapse by incorporating
socialist ideals into the workings of the economic system,
recognizing the rights of workers to form unions and created a
variety of programs to provide a ‘safety net’ to aid the jobless
and the poor.
– In the 1960s the federal government responded to civil rights
protest by implementing the civil rights act outlawing previously
legalized segregation, expanded spending on public education
and launched a ‘war on poverty’. In the 1970s passed laws to
reduce environmental contamination by corporations.
• The New Right’s agenda has been the undoing
of the New Deal and other liberal reforms
passed by the government. It is composed of
– The Religious, white Christian evangelical groups
– The corporate “think tanks”
– Conservative wing of the Republican Party
• Political Extremeism:
– When people feel that regular institutional
avenues to having their voices heard are blocked ,
it leads to social frustration and a coping
mechanism of which the reaction can be
• 1. Political apathy and Political alienation
• 2. Political Extremism : April 1995 Oklahoma City
Bombing- there may be 100,000 armed militia group
members in the United States
Toward the Democratic Ideal
• How can the concentration of political and economic power
be arrested and reversed?
– Staying Silent is similar to acknowledging the status quo
– Success is possible:
• The Civil Rights Act
• Ending the war in Vietnam and other anti-war movments
– Grassroots Movements and Activism
– Alterations in government conduct:
• Political Action Committees permit corporate and trade groups to
make massive contributions to elections by bypassing private
restrictions on direct contributions to candidates
• Soft money: contributions used for party building activities, get out
the vote efforts etc
The key to making the US democratic is to cut the tie
between economic self interest and political behavior