Both the Elite and the Pluralist models are a means by which public policy is created. Both do not conform to the democracy created by our fore-fathers; a government for the people and by the people. The Elite model is one in which a small group of wealthy white males hold the power and control the policy making for our country. In contrast, the Pluralist model suggest that the power is distributed among interest groups that compete to control public policy. Both Karl Marx(1883) and C. Wright Mills (1956) are famous for their views on the “rule by few” or the power elite. Through money and power, the power elite has a large influence on how the government elects, makes laws and operates on a daily basis.
Power Elite vs. Pluralist Model
It has been said that one of the biggest threats to democracy in the United States is apathetic voters, more specifically, ignorance of the masses that leads to apathy (Dye, Zeigler, & Schubert, p. 79). Many blame citizens of the lower and middle class, claiming that they are lazy or that they simply do not care. Are citizens really to blame or has the government itself created apathy among the masses? Dating back to 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, money equaled power. Those with money or “income producing land” had political power (Domhoff, p.55). Today these “landowners” are our high political leaders, corporate owners and military leaders. This leads to the question of: Is our country a true democracy, something we have prided ourselves on for centuries, or are we closer to a plutocracy, a government ran by the wealthy(Krugman)? By taking a closer look at special interest, policy-making and candidate selection processes, we can see how heavily our government relies on and answers to the power elite instead of the masses.
Who are the Power Elite?
First, we must understand exactly who the power elite are, a term coined by Karl Marx (Anderson & Taylor, p. 516). These are the top 1% of our population, earning about $1,300,000 annually, and hold almost 36% of our Nation’s privately held wealth (Domhoff, p.55). Worth noting is the top 20%, those making more than $225,000 annually, hold 89% of our Nation’s wealth, leaving only 11% of the remaining wealth to distribute to 80% of the population (Domhoff, p.56). The power elite, top 1%, are a “close knit” group of predominantly white males, coming from “old-money”, but they are not banded together to conspire against the government. They are not dictators or terrorists; just citizens who were either born into wealth and adopted the elite theory or those who worked their way up through the tiers. A few hundred are political and military leaders, while the rest are owners of large corporations; i.e. General Electric and Boeing to name a few. Their interest lyes in their business but in order to prosper, they utilize their governmental ties to benefit their company. How are they able to influence governmental officials? By donating monies through PAC’s (Political Action Committees), business’s such as GE or Boeing influence politics through the power of money.
One might stop and ask, why is it that our whole country’s wealth is held by such few hands? What has changed over the recent decades to cause such a shift? There was a period of time when income and wealth were more evenly distributed. This was during the time of the “New Deal” programs and after World War II. In an article by Paul Krugman, “For Richer”, he argues that during the New Deal era of FDR and WWII, America became a middle-class society because the concentration of income dropped. The government programs that aided the poor, such as social security, caused wide acceptance of more economic equality in America. These new attitudes about equality helped to lessen the gap between the rich and the poor. But, since the 1970’s, income gaps...
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