Researched Works

Who has Power in America

Harold D. Lasswell’s description of politics i.e., “Who gets what, when, and how” (Matzke 2, 6) echoes Dennis Wrong’s definition of power that actually reigns in the United States: “the capacity of some persons to produce intended and foreseen effects on others" (qtd. in Domhoff, “The Class-Domination Theory of Power”). Among the contemporary theories that depict such meaning in American society is the elite and class theory. Although many interest groups exist and have the right to promote their causes, the upper-class elite or those who are wealthy dominate the overall landscape of America.

The Elite's Domination and the Poor Majority

In his book, Who Rules America? (2005), George William Domhoff notes that“[t]hose who have the money -- or more specifically, who own income-producing land and businesses -- have the power.” He cites the similarities of two former US presidents, i.e., George Washington and George Bush, in terms of their business involvements. He also underscores how the capitalist market economy thrives using the “divide and rule” dictum.

Said motto has caused a socio-economic divide as represented by the elite few and the working class majority. The latter though is subjected to further splits, such as ethnicity/race (whites versus colored), that made it difficult for the lower class to unite and influence policies (Domhoff, “The Class-Domination Theory of Power”).

In addition, the history of slavery involving Africans shows how “the absence of material capital” had made the powerless and poor blacks a ‘property’ of wealthy Caucasian masters. The working-class whites worsened the situation by discriminating against the slaves in terms of educational opportunities and skills development (Patterson in Schuck and Wilson 383).

Influential Forces Behind Public Policy

Gary Burtless and Ron Haskins’s “Inequality, Economic Mobility, and Social Policy” tackles the wide income gap between rich Americans and people from middle- and low-classes. It also discusses the inability of the US government to give more funds to social programs, such as public education and anti-discrimination laws: “Taken together, the scores of federal and state programs…do not constitute a coherent or rational system for alleviating poverty” (Schuck and Wilson 496, 521).

Support for state policies though depends not just on the lobbying of interest groups or on the speeches of charismatic leaders like President Barack Obama. Media, as Nelson Polsby discussed, could also influence “[a] very large population of decision makers in many policy areas…” (Schuck and Wilson 496, 521). Most, if not all, media firms (i.e., currently dominated by Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal) are controlled by people who are only after money, considering their huge investments (The Economic Collapse, “Who Owns The Media?”).

Constraints to US Federal Government's Control

The indecision of the US government to make pro-poor policies stems from the vital role of corporations in stimulating the economy from the 1960s onwards (Bok 23). Apart from this, it was uncertain whether the US Congress could support industrial policies which may affect “…businesses in districts represented by powerful legislators” (23-24). This scenario points to the seemingly mutual relationship between American political leaders and wealthy industrialists/capitalists.

Domhoff’s The Power Elite and the State details how business owners support presidential elections through their preferred political parties, i.e., either Democrats or Republicans. Said book also narrates that during Roosevelt’s reelection bid, ‘bankers and heavy industrialists’ provided funds to Republicans, whereas ‘retailers, light industrialists, and the entertainment industry’ backed the Democrats (232).

Given the above cited circumstances, the US Government’s power is limited by the clashing goals of the elite few and the working class majority. Most of the time, however, it is bent on preserving social order in spite of the sorry impact of inequality in the lives of many Americans. It seems that the only time the Government gives attention to the welfare of the majority is during political campaigns and election period. However, even public opinion about social, economic, and political issues can be shaped by the elite through the media.

Works Cited

Bok, Derek. The State of the Nation: Government and the Quest for a Better Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Print.

Domhoff, G. William. The Power Elite and the State: How Policy Is Made in America. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1990. Print.

---. “The Class-Domination Theory of Power.” Who Rules America? 2005. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/class_domination.html

Matzke, Charles S. Instructor’s Manual to accompany Edwards Government in America – People, Politics, and Policy. 10th ed. by Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry. Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. Print.

Schuck, Peter H. and James Q.Wilson, eds. Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation. New York: Public Affairs, 2008. Print.

The Economic Collapse. “Who Owns The Media?” 2010, Oct. 4. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/


Written by Leann Zarah (leannzarah@gmail.com)

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