Who Rules America by G. William Domhoff, is a largely objective study claiming through statistics that there is an upper class in the U.S that dominates both political and economic policy. The class is the class of the Power Elite, made up of the Rockefellers, the Carnegies and others as well as many massive large corporation shareholders. Domhoff presents his argument and his first chapter about the Power Elite, “Class and Power in America” and further researches how they as a great power control the U.S in Chapter 7 titled “How the Power Elite Dominate the Government.” We will be able to agree the Power Elite dominates political and economic policy from the arguments and statistics presented herein.
Domhoff first set out to prove that there was an American Upper Class and came up with four studies to establish the existence of this American Upper Class.
The first was a study of the wealthy families of Philadelphia were traced over 200 years to find out they created their own neighborhoods, schools, clubs, and debutante balls and how their activities outside the city were organized by a Social Register, which was full of over 60,000 rich families in thirteen cities. It was valuable proof of upper class standing.(p.7) The second was a study of the patterns of memberships and affiliations among dozens of prep schools and clubs which had much to do with the Social Register.(P.7) The Third proof of an upper middle class was journalists who cover high society and surveying the schools, clubs and social directories and asking them.(P.7) The fourth proof was interviews with a certain number of citizens and what the overwhelming majority of the people’s perceptions of the social ladder as a whole. (pg.7)
With this proof in mind, Domhoff then tried to find out how these Power Elite had wealth and where the distribution of this wealth had come from and how this ties in with power and control of the U.S. Domhoff discussed that wealth comes from the ownership of marketable assets, and defines this as real estate and financial assets from stocks, bonds, insurance and bank accounts. (p.9) In terms of types of wealth Domhoff explains, the top 1 percent of households had 39.7% of financial wealth, including nearly half, 44.1% of all private stock as well as 58% percent of financial securities and 57.3% of business equity.(p9-10) Also Domhoff also finds that the top 10 percent of stock, bonds and trusts and business equity. (p.10)
We can agree by now that Domhoff is seeing a pattern, so he uses the same 10% and sees how they score on figures of inheritance for example. Only 1.1 percent receives $50,000 to $100,000. On the other hand 91.9% receive nothing. It seems that it is a very hard struggle for the bottom 90 percent or so to have any power whatsoever. We compare the wealth distribution to power by defining what Domhoff says on power. Domhoff says there are two dimensions of power, one is available resources, common spirit and or charisma and the population size to achieve the goals.(p.11) In this case this power has been strengthened by assimilating immigrants of different economic and educational levels to function as productive citizens and no doubt this is woks by the social class of the Power Elite. The second dimension of power is the distributive power, as this power is successful in conflicts.(p.11,12) This means a powerful group such as the Power Elite can prevail and reach it’s goals for example the social upper class and the Christian Right can institute the policies even in opposition. (p.12)
Domhoff finds that with these powers and wealth distribution, a class can prevail with four major networks, economic, political, military and religious groups which only support the strong power of a social group.
Since the American Upper Class is the dominant class inequality will happen and this is because of the disproportionate share of stocks, bonds and real estate described earlier that many Americans consider worth having but don’t have because the upper class of Power Elite has the valuables.(p.14)
Domhoff, in effort to find out how is a group that has power and wealth disproportionately tries to measure this.
He comes up with the power indicators of “Who Benefits”, “Who Governs” and “Who Wins” as a basis for measuring power. In the measurement of “Who Benefits” Domhoff explains that “those who have the most of what people want are, by inference, the powerful. He explains further that wealth and well being are the values and the basis for this power indicator. (p.13) The second power indicator “Who Governs” discusses that if a group is highly promoted or not in proportion to the population, it can infer that a group is powerful or powerless. In this example he explains that if 1 percent of the population has 30 positions in government – you’d think they are powerful. The third power indicator is Who Wins? This, Domhoff explains has to do with the issues of taxation, unionization, business regulation, etc. depending on who successfully is able to modify, initiate or veto policy alternatives.(p.18)
This is the framework for Domhoff’s thesis and now it can be put to practical work in the four power networks Domhoff explains. They are the ways the Power Elite with all it’s power and wealth influence the government and population in a planned manner, thereby making it possible to asses it’s degree of success very directly. (p.16) The first power network is the special interest process deals with policy concerns of the Power Elite. Lobbyists from corporations and law firms and trade associations play a key role in shaping the government on narrow issues of concern to specific corporations or businesses and find top level governmental appointees to implement those policies.(p.161) For example, The Magazine Publishers of America paid a lobbyist firm $520,000 to oppose a possible 15 percent increase in magazine postal rates.(p.174) Special interests groups also work through congress to stop regulatory agencies, for example, when the FDA tried to regulate tobacco, Congress refused authorization in 2000 in deference to the tobacco industry. The FDA is now very lax with it’s policies, there is almost a lack of monitoring safety of the drugs on the market today.(p.175)
The second type of power network controls the public agenda with the general interests of only the corporate community.(p.16) It operates though policy planning networks of foundations, think-tanks and policy discussion
groups. As one may believe that a think-tank or a foundation may come from a educational institution, 83 percent of 12 think tanks and policy planning groups, and 72 percent of the 100 largest corporations, had members on the federal advisory committees, far more than of foundations, universities and charities in the database.(p.177) This means that the Power Elite is in control of the policies set forth in this country. Domhoff also says that secondly they are respected upon the presidential and congressional commissions since WWII. Thirdly, they have more personal contact with the officials, Fourth, they serve as informal advisers to the president in foreign policy crises and fifthly, some of these corporate officials are appointed as part of the cabinet in the White House.(p.177)
The third power network is concerned with the election of candidates who are sympathetic to the issues put forth in the last two power networks. This is called the candidate selection process. It operates through large campaign donations and hired political consultants.(p.16)
The sad point made is that these corporate executives become politicians with little or no training. Corporate executives are four times as likely to serve in federal government advisory position because of their clout, wealth acclamation than smaller company executives because they are not the power elite and do not have the connections.(p.165) For example, President Clinton’s first Secretary of State was a director of Lockheed Martin and Southern Californian Edison and First Interstate Bancorp, a trustee of the Carnegie foundation.(p.166)
The last and fourth process is the opinion shaping process. This attempts to keep some issues off the public agenda. They are made up of the second process, the Policy planning networks. Large public relations firms and public affairs departments of the major corporations make up this process. The Power Elite do not enter in a public persona, instead they set up leaders to make special committees to work for changes in public opinion.(p.111) They work hard to influence public schools, churches and voluntary associations to work with the power elite supportfully so the Power Elite can justify their own means when at all possible.
The Power Elite exert an extreme amount of power with their ownership of most of the U.S. businesses, stocks and commercial real estate in the country. Their influence with power, income distribution and their ability to work with each other to accomplish a goal that meets their needs makes them respectable but unnerving. While the Power Elite and top executives of corporations dominate political and economical ends and means, the ends must justify the means as the great philosopher Emmanuel Kant once put it. The positive ethical question is burning, is the Power Elite ready to put the United States needs before their own?
Domhoff, William G. Who Rules America: Power, Politics and Social Change. New York : McGraw Hill, 2005