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The Power Elite
   
Tan Nguyen
 
Both Thomas Dye and William Domhoff argue that in the United States, power is no longer vested in the people, but rather, in a
select group of upper class individuals, or, the "power elite."
  
  
We like to think of the United State as a democracy, where power is vested in the people.  But does power truly belong to the general population? Or does it belong to an elite group of individuals, namely, leaders of large corporations.  Both Thomas Dye in Who's Running America? The Clinton Years (1995) and William Domhoff in Who Rules America: Power and Politics in the Year 2000 (2000) present evidence supporting the latter hypothesis.  As Domhoff puts it, "the owners and top-level managers in large income-producing properties are far and away the dominant power figures in the United States"(1).  It is this arrangement that most severely undermines democracy in the United States.

In Domhoff's view, a power elite exists in the United States.  This group is made up of the nation's corporate community - along with those who have vested corporate ties - and their policy formation organizations (such as chambers of commerce) (2).  Domhoff points out that both the corporate community and policy formation organizations are predominantly made up of members of the upper class.  This occurs because: "1. members of the upper class own almost half of all privately held stock, 2. many large stockholding families in the upper class continue to be involved in the direction of major corporations through family offices, investment partnerships, and holding companies, 3. members of the upper class are disproportionately represented on the boards of large corporations, 4. the professional managers of middle-level origins are assimilated into the upper class both socially and economically and share the values of upper-class owners(3)."   

The power elite is bound together by their common upper class values.  Domhoff argues that this "social cohesion" is important from a class-dominance perspective because the most socially cohesive groups are the ones that do best in arriving at a consensus when dealing with a problem(4).  Attending the nation's exclusive prep schools and universities, and
becoming members of the country's most exclusive social clubs and resorts serves to solidify this cohesion.  Dye concurs with Domhoff's idea of the upper class's social cohesion, stating that "agreement among elites to abide by the rule of law and to minimize violence has a strong utilitarian motive, namely, to preserve stable working arrangements among elite groups(5)."

The power elite adheres to upper class values, which they seek to perpetuate in order to maintain their class position, i.e. the status quo.  "Elites in all sectors of American society share a consensus about the fundamental values of private enterprise, limited government, and due process of law(6)." According to Dye, "6,000 individuals in 7,000 positions exercise formal authority over institutions that control roughly half of the nation's resources in industry, finance, utilities, insurance, mass media, foundation, education, law, and civic and cultural affairs(7)."  A relatively small number of people actually direct the activities in these areas or institutions, giving each member of the elite a great deal of power, and further adds to the group's cohesion.
    
(1) Domhoff, William.  Who’s Rules America.  Power and Politics in the Year 2000.  New York: Mayfield Publishing. 2000. 
(2)
Domhoff, William.  2.
(3) Domhoff, William.  71.
(4)
Domhoff, William.  72.
(5)
Dye, Thomas.  Who’s Running America?  The Clinton Years.  New York: Prentice Hall.  1994.  242.
(6)
Dye, Thomas.  246

(7)
Dye, Thomas.  244

 

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