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The Power Elite Does It Exist Today

In: Business and Management

Submitted By sherrysol
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C. Wright Mills proposed the power-elite theory in 1956, which states that there is a power elite in modern societies, an elite who commands the resources of vast bureaucratic organizations that have come to dominate industrial societies. According to Mills, the power elite are the key people in the three major institutions of modern society- military, economy and the government (Mills 1956). It is the elite that occupy these leadership positions within the bureaucracies. Although this theory was proposed in what may have been a simpler time, the structure of power in America remains very much the same, as does the close relationship between the military, corporate, and government elites.
Mills placed the military as one of the triumvirate groups that comprised the power elite. The military has been elevated to a position of prestige and power and the present class of professional soldiers has had an impact that is far greater than just military affairs. In World War II, large corporations tied to the defense industry rose in power and influence and formed the origins of what President Eisenhower called the military industrial complex (Swanson). The war brought a bureaucratic centralization of power. In more recent times, the demands of foreign affairs, the dangers of potential adversaries, the sophistication and mystique of new weapons, and especially the development of the means of mass destruction have all given power to our highest military leaders (Reynolds). Corporations have also benefited because of the military. The growth of military spending in the United States in 2011 increased due to the war in Iraq (Weigley), which then affects federal budget decisions and strengthens the connections between these groups. The military by virtue of the position it holds has the authority to make decisions that have national and international consequences supporting Mills theory of the “power elite.”
Power also leads to wealth in that power permits firms and individuals to gain access to society’s wealth. Therefore, a power elite is often also an economic elite. One of the main differences is that in the 1950’s the power elite were CEOs of old industrial and consumer product companies like General Electric and today’s power elite are the CEOs of major financial institutions like Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs (Lenzer). The concentration of wealth of this group has significantly increased since 1956 and in 2012; 8.8% or 2,728,000 people were reported to be in the .1% income share (Piketty, T). These corporations have an enormous influence on our society, banks, energy companies, pharmaceutical companies and food corporations. Corporations have significant influence on elections and in 2015 protests in North Carolina occurred to mark the anniversary on the Supreme Court Ruling that removed limits on the amount of money an independent corporation can spend on political campaigns (Kuhlman). These monies have significant influence on election outcomes. The decisions of these corporations have little regulation, so the existence of a “power elite” is almost a visible fact supporting Mills thesis in today’s corporate reality.
The government plays a significant role and is at the top of the power structure. Members of the power elite directly involve themselves in the federal government through special interest, policy-making and candidate selection processes (Domhoff). Cabinet recruitment studies have shown that from Kennedy to Bush’s cabinet, 65% were drawn from major corporations, financial institutions or corporate law firms. The three top cabinet officers in President Obama’s inaugural cabinet all had corporate connections (Gilbert). The domination of the federal government can also be seen in the workings of corporate lobbyists, and industry-wide trade associations that represent the interests of specific corporations or business sectors policies to the media and public. Lee Iacocca, the CEO of Chrysler during its bailout pointed out that the higher costs of ever-increasing safety regulations was one of the main reasons Chrysler needed the bailout (Beattie). Highly regulated industry with a few large companies become intertwined with the government.
The power elite today has characteristics in common which make them socially interconnected. They have elite university educations, memberships in certain civic organizations and occupy positions that give them the ability to make some of the most momentous decisions in American society. This connection is strengthened even further through marriages, friendships and business relationships (Mills 1956), coinciding with Mill’s theory that there is a small subset of the American population that benefit from durable privileges and inequalities of access to wealth and income. Individuals in the power elite go to similar schools. Dye found that 54 percent of the top corporate leaders and 42 percent of the highest political officials went to just 12 private colleges including Yale, Princeton, and Stanford (Dye). This supports what Mills believed that those in the elite are completely interconnected. The interconnections these groups have established has influence in all aspects of our country supporting the ideas of Mills that the hierarchies of power are the key to understanding modern industrial societies.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beattie, Andrew. 2011. “How Governments Influence Markets.” Investopedia. Retrieved February 12, 2015 (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/11/how-governments-influence-markets.asp).

Brooks, David. 2011. “The Wrong Inequality.” New York Times , October 31. Retrieved January 22, 2015 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/brooks-the-wrong-.).

Domhoff, G. William. 2012. “Who Rules America: The Class-Domination Theory of Power.” Who Rules America: The Class-Domination Theory of Power. Retrieved February 9, 2015 (http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/class_domination.html).

Gilbert, Dennis L. n.d. “Chapter 8.” Pp. 175-186 in The American class structure in an age of growing inequality.

Grusky, David B. and Szonja Szelényi. 2006. “The Power Elite C. Wright Mills.” Pp. 71-86 in Inequality: Classic Readings in Race, Class, and Gender. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

Krugman, Paul. 2006. “Graduates Versus Oligarchs.” New York TImes, February 27. Retrieved January 25, 2015 (query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res.).

Kuhlman, Mary. 2015. “Calls Today to End Corporate Influence in Elections.” / Public News Service. Retrieved February 12, 2015 (http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2015-01-21/campaign-finance-reform-money-in-politics/calls-today-to-end-corporate-influence-in-elections/a44125-1).

Piketty, Thomas and Emmanuel Saez. 2007. “Income and Wage Inequality in the United States 1913-2002. “Chapter 4 in Top Incomes over the Twentieth Century: A Contrast Between Continental European and English-Speaking Countries, edited by A.B. Atkinson and T. Piketty. Oxford University Press (series updated by the same authors). Some data take from The World Top Incomes
Database, http:// topincomes.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/.

Reynolds, H.T. 1996. “The Power Elite.” The Power Elite. Retrieved February 3, 2015 (http://www.socialstudieshelp.com/apgov_power_elite.htm).

St., Samuel Weigley 24/7. Wall. 2013. “10 Companies Profiting the Most From War.” USA Today. Retrieved February 12, 2015 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/03/10/10-companies-profiting-most-from-war/1970997/).

Stille, Alexander. 2011. “The Paradox of the New Elite.” New York Times , October 22. Retrieved January 25, 2015 (www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/./social-inequality-and-the-new-elite.html?.‎).

Swanson, Mike. 2015. “Understanding The Power Elite.” Understanding The Power Elite. Retrieved February 9, 2015 (http://wallstreetwindow.com/the-power-elite).

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