Patrick Wolff Soc. 320 Short Assignment #2 Domhoff's theories have

Patrick Wolff
Soc. 320
Short Assignment #2
Domhoff’s theories have to do with the influence the ultra rich have on
America. In his book: Who Rules America, Domhoff lays claim that the rich gain
power and prestige and use this along with fiscal backing to run the United States
behind the scenes. His book lays out his reasoning behind his claims. Through
examples and statistics he defines how and why these people have power.
Domhoff’s work focuses on the ultra rich. These are the wealthiest people in
the United States. This category is less than a percent of the population. These
individuals are considered by Domhoff to be the top social class. A family belonging
to this group forms a sort of prestige around them. This is not necessarily where the
power is derived from, however this prestige is a key to unlock a new social world
full of opportunities. His argument that the relationships formed within the rich
class is what gives them their power and control.
According to Domhoff the top social class works with each other. His wording
was "overlapping membership.” This means that the socially elite are part of many
organizations with other rich folks. Some of these organizations are secret societies.
Some examples of these would be The Order of the Cincinnati or the Bohemian Club.
Through these organizations or secret societies, rich people can get together and
express ideas. They can find like-minded folks with the same visions and power as
them. Through these close organizations, Domhoff claims, the rich are connected. If
their membership is in multiple organizations, then they are tied to more wealthy
and powerful people. The power for these groups can grow now that they are under
central organizations.
Domhoff also talks about power derived from a “corporate community.” The
corporate community is almost like a social club. It contains all the business owners
of large corporation. All these individuals share a common goal. They wish to
expand their businesses and make profits. Based on these similar interests, the
corporate community can find ways to work together and meet these goals. Board
members at large corporations sit in on other boards. These members now have a
say in multiple big businesses. In addition to board member membership, the
corporate community own about half of all corporate stock. This means that they
own most of these large publicly traded businesses. The collaborative effort
amongst the corporate community gives them most of the power over big business.
Another group Domhoff explains is the power elite. Many of the people that
belong in the upper social class are also in the corporate community. The
overlapping of these groups leads to a concentration of wealth, power, and similar
ideas. From here the wealthy can form non-for profit organizations. These groups
then can use their influences to be a part of the political process. An example of this
would be Political Action Committees or P.A.C.S. These packs are often overrepresentative of their wealthy members. From here they can influence what
candidates run, have a say in the formation of legislation, and form close relations
with government officials. This can be done through monetary funding or the
backing of the elites. These non-for profit organizations contribute a lot of money
into candidate’s campaigns. The support of these organizations gives candidates or
officials an advantage over others.
Jamie Johnson’s documentary The One Percent gives a viewer an inside
perspective of the upper social class. Johnson is a member of the family that owns
Johnson & Johnson. They are one of the richest families in the world. His
documentary shows how life is as ultra rich and how it contrasts to the working
class. Johnson also explores how these rich families keep their wealth and power to
themselves. The documentary gives good examples that can be related to Domhoff’s
Johnson’s main point of the documentary is to show that there is a major gap
between the rich and the poor. According to his research this gap is growing.
Essentially, “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” This phrase
may sound cliché, but this is described by Johnson’s data to be a real concern. His
family has an advisor on how to keep the wealth in the family. He is invited to a
seminar on the same subject that many wealthy families attend. He then shows the
working class in run down neighborhoods and the poverty there.
The idea that rich families collaborate to keep wealth shows Domhoff’s point
that the upper class works to keep their power. Without this wealth they would not
earn as high of status. These families then could not enter secret societies or be
owners of businesses. They would then not have their powerful alliances or be able
to fund organizations that play a role in politics. If a family dropped in social class
many opportunities would evade them. That is why these families see this as a big
Some of the lower class individual interviewed in the documentary lay claim
that the wealthy are pushing them out of desired neighborhoods. The focus here
was in Chicago. Many lower class citizens were being kicked out of public housing to
make way for condos. A man interviewed claimed that the upper class influenced
politicians to close schools and other public works in the area. This would drive
some out. Also there were claims that foreclosures came from the banks controlled
by the wealthy. These working class people blamed the upper class or the loss of
their neighborhoods. They saw the rich take over the abandoned areas with
luxurious condos. It may not be the case that the rich really had a hand in this, but I
can see the cause for suspicion.
Thomas Shapiro’s writings Race Homeownership and Wealth talks about the
differences in wealth among social classes. Shapiro describes wealth as being “the
total value of a family’s financial resources minus all debts.” Here he makes the
argument that there is a noticeable difference in the levels of wealth between white
and African Americans in the United States.
One way that a family’s wealth can be determined by the Asset Poverty Line.
This is a system used by the government to track families’ wealth across the nation.
By using the APL it is possible to calculate how long a family can live off its assets
with no monetary income. This line fell at $4,175 for a family of four to survive for
three months. Four in every ten families of the world’s wealthiest nations would be
considered below this line. Over half of African American families fell below this
The data above suggests that families are not as wealthy as one may thing.
This information was shocking to me. Put into perspective, forty percent of families
in wealthy nations could not survive for three months without an income. The
number is even higher when focused just on minorities. With this in mind there are
the ultra rich folks that are mentioned in Who Rules America. Shapiro is providing us
with another example of the gap in wealth that has been created. In his work he also
displays how the gap is widened on minorities. The amount of wealth built up by the
rich members of society could possibly allow them to survive the rest of their lives
while almost half of fellow citizens would make it three months. This really drives
home the point that there is a giant gap in wealth.
I thought another class reading that related to Who Rules America was
Gregory Mantsios’s Media Magic. The media is controlled under only seven different
corporations. This means that only a few people control the media that influences
the nation. This means that the people in charge of the media are extremely
influential and wealthy. I found that this was a way that the wealthy can have
influence and power.
Mantsios’s work displayed how the poor are portrayed in the media. They
are shown as lazy, undeserving, and have unattractive features. By displaying the
poor in this way the wealthy make themselves look better. They show that if
someone does not work hard or try they will never succeed. It works as propaganda
for the rich. The media says that the wealthy earned their money and worked hard
to achieve it.
The media also downplays the number of people in poverty. They only look
at the really poor like the homeless. They do not mention the extremely large
population of poor that exist in the U.S. One of Mantsios brings up he question why
such a large percent of the population are not receiving media attention. Because of
this underrepresentation of the poor, there is little attention paid to them. Middle
class people are not aware of the situations the poor face. They just see the negative
stereotypes put out by the media and do not really look into the issues.
The media gives legitimacy to the rich. By controlling the media the wealthy
can spread their moral system and show that hard work leads to riches. This is a
perfect example of what Domhoff is saying. The wealthy control the media, thus
giving them power that no one else has in the U.S.
I believe that there should be a concern about the growing poverty line in the
United States. The rich do not spread wealth on their own, as they should. Being
from an economics background I do believe in the capitalist system. However, I
believe that as companies grow, the benefit of workers should as well. If workers got
a higher percent of the companies profits the gap between classes would narrow. I
believe that CEOs should receive smaller shares then they do now. Overall I agree
that the rich have more power then regular citizens, but the masses have the vote. If
things got really out of hand officials could be voted out for not representing the
people’s interest. This is where I believe the system checks itself.