Free Essay

The Power Elite Does It Exist Today


Submitted By sherrysol
Words 1201
Pages 5
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.


Beattie, Andrew. 2011. “How Governments Influence Markets.” Investopedia. Retrieved February 12, 2015 (

Brooks, David. 2011. “The Wrong Inequality.” New York Times , October 31. Retrieved January 22, 2015 (

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 (

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 (

Kuhlman, Mary. 2015. “Calls Today to End Corporate Influence in Elections.” / Public News Service. Retrieved February 12, 2015 (

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://

Reynolds, H.T. 1996. “The Power Elite.” The Power Elite. Retrieved February 3, 2015 (

St., Samuel Weigley 24/7. Wall. 2013. “10 Companies Profiting the Most From War.” USA Today. Retrieved February 12, 2015 (

Stille, Alexander. 2011. “The Paradox of the New Elite.” New York Times , October 22. Retrieved January 25, 2015 (‎).

Swanson, Mike. 2015. “Understanding The Power Elite.” Understanding The Power Elite. Retrieved February 9, 2015 (

Similar Documents

Premium Essay


...different from what it is today. The authors of the stories criticize our present social system, by displaying a satirized dystopian future of society, in which the world is led by corporatism and has lost control of themselves as well as the ability to think and instead are governed by a higher form of power, having become controlled sheep. The dystopian possibilities shown in the stories aren’t that far out of reach. Many of the dystopian elements can be scene in today’s society but on a smaller scale. As time progresses our civilization can itself become incorporated in a reality that was once the plot of fictitious stories. The classic cult movie “They Live” by John carpenter exploits corporatism that is seen in a large scale in today’s society. The movie revolves around Nada, a happy go lucky wandering construction worker, who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that are capable of showing the world’s true nature. Through his sunglasses he can see hidden subliminal messages throughout the city that are projected by advertisements and mass media. He only sees the core of their message and only the reason why they exist. No matter where Nada looks, or at whichever magazine he flips open he can see the same subliminal messages, which can also be seen on money. The memos contain messages such as: “obey," “consume," “buy," “work, sleep, play” and are meant to restrain and control the population. Nada also discovers that most of the worlds social elite are skull faced aliens that...

Words: 1290 - Pages: 6

Premium Essay


...Importance of Political Participation “Elites” have a great effect on political socialization and participation in America. There are three factors that affect socialization and political participation that stand taller than the rest. First is the limited growth in worker wages. While the wealthy businessmen continue to get richer and the lower class workers continue to get lower wages, the median of the incomes between the two is rising. (Dye) This allows for the minimum wages of lower class workers to keep decreasing and go unnoticed because statistics look at the median wages for Americans when in actuality, it is a combination of average and median values that give more accuracy in the perception of the state of worker wages. Regretfully, this truth is disregarded as many large businesses display those statistics and continue to mask this growing dilemma in our economy. Second, most electorates are completely oblivious about anything going on that does not directly affect them, and often they still don’t know anything about what is greatly affecting them. Because they are uninformed, they do not know of any problems and thus do not particularly care. This is demonstrated by the fact that many support certain institutions in which they do not support the people who run the institutions. (Dye) This is not necessarily due to elitists, but it does continue to drive a wedge further between the elites and the lower class, which is how the elites would prefer to make the decisions...

Words: 999 - Pages: 4

Free Essay

Tyranny of the Majority

...Paul Krugman seems to disagree in his article, “Knowledge Isn’t Power”[1], in which he talks about how the argument for improving education is just a cover-up for talking about the real, underlying issue: that most of the power in the United States is being controlled by a small group of people with most of the money, and that this group is actively trying to keep all of the money to themselves through monopoly. This idea seems to go against that of Mill and Tocqueville’s; the power lies in the 1% of Americans, an extremely small minority. Furthermore, although most of the majority is able to freely speak their mind in various mediums, such as social media, online newsletters, and blogs, they are largely powerless to make much change in the political and economic sphere. Yet another example that a small group holds all of the power! The point to note here is that the current system of oppression of the poor by the rich was allowed to happen under the same circumstances that Mill and Tocqueville feared would lead to the tyranny of the masses. Although we as a nation had cast away the oppressive monarchy, we created a country in which ordinary people could rise to power, and become the new kings of our time. However, this is not to say that tyranny of the masses does not exist. In fact, as Krugman implies, the minority that holds power over the masses does so through a form of tyranny of the masses to keep said power. One of the main concerns that Tocqueville had about the American...

Words: 1548 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

Power and Authority

...2ND SUBJECT: - SOCIOLOGY TITLE OF THE PROJECT: - POWER AND AUTHORITY RESEARCH METHODOLOGY: - The researcher will have a doctrinal approach towards the Project. Information for the Project will be collected from Books, Journals and Internet. ACKNOWLEDGMENT This Project couldn’t have been successfully completed without the support and guidance of our Sociology Professor, M. Lakshmipati Raju Sir and we would like to express our immense gratitude to him for his constant support and motivation that has encouraged us to come up with this project. Lastly, we would like to thank our classmates for their whole hearted support at all times during the course of the Project. Thanking You Rahul Kr. Dubey CONTENTS 1. INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………..4 2. WHAT IS POWER?.......................................................................................................5 A. THE EMERGENCE OF POWER…………………………………………6 B. THE DIVISION OF POWER……………………………………………..9 3. WHAT IS AUTHORITY…...…………………………………………………………9 A. POLITICAL AUTHORITY……...………………………………………11 4. THE DEMOCRATIC CONCEPTION OF POLITICAL AUTHORITY………..….15 5. THE RELATIONSHIP AND DISTINCTION BETWEEN POWER AND AUTHORITY…………………..................................

Words: 9038 - Pages: 37

Premium Essay

Social Issues

...Social stratification exists in America because the wealth and power belongs to a small portion of the population. Wealthy people possess an enormous amount of power over the political system and are held in high esteem by our society. There is a general feeling that those who are wealthy and powerful are superior to the average person. Social stratification involves not only socio-economic inequality, but the belief system held by people in America. A stratified society exists when there is an unequal distribution of wealth, power and prestige. In American society, political power and wealth are not distributed equally (Johnson, 1996). Paul Krugman is an economist and author of the book, 'The Spiral of Inequality' (1996). Krugman believes corporate greed, the decline of organized labor and changes in the way goods are produced are the causes of the growing social and economic inequality in the United States (Anderson, 2003). There is an unspoken general agreement in America that certain occupations deserve higher wages and more respect. Professions, such as physicians, lawyers, athletes and actors, are held in high esteem, whereas custodians, waitresses and trash collectors are considered professions that are not worthy of respect or praise and require minimal skill or intelligence. America most definitely needs skilled physicians and lawyers, but it also needs custodians, trash collectors and others who perform much needed tasks in order for society to thrive and function...

Words: 3589 - Pages: 15

Premium Essay

Karl Marks and the Concept of Society and Social Structure

...KARL MARX AND THE CONCEPTS OF SOCIETY AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE BEING AN ASSIGNMENT SUBMITTED BY EKOTT, IMOH BERNARD 1.0 INTRODUCTION The philosopher, social scientist, historian and revolutionary, Karl Heinrich Marx, is without a doubt the most influential socialist thinker to emerge in the 19th century. Although he was largely ignored by scholars in his own lifetime, his social, economic and political ideas gained rapid acceptance in the socialist movement after his death in 1883. Until quite recently almost half the population of the world lived under regimes that claim to be Marxist. This very success, however, has meant that the original ideas of Marx have often been modified and his meanings adapted to a great variety of political circumstances. In addition, the fact that Marx delayed publication of many of his writings meant that is been only recently that scholars had the opportunity to appreciate Marx's intellectual stature. Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a comfortable middle-class home in Trier on the river Moselle in Germany on May 5, 1818. He came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family and his father, a man who knew Voltaire and Lessing by heart, had agreed to baptism as a Protestant so that he would not lose his job as one of the most respected lawyers in Trier. At the age of seventeen, Marx enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn. At Bonn he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen , a prominent...

Words: 7678 - Pages: 31

Premium Essay

Essay On Soft Power

...The hazardous nature of soft power suggests that it may take several attempts for that ritual ceremony to produce outcomes: if more and more people attend the ceremony because they are convinced that it works, then they are genuinely attracted to it, which allows soft power to affect the audience. Soft power takes thus longer time to show results than hard power. Furthermore, preferences may change. This year’s new trend might be short skirts, but next year’s might be long skirts, and the next only pants. As a result, more women may wear short skirts the first year, then long skirts, then pants. It would be then difficult to observe whether women actually are attracted to short skirts or not. Similarly, since soft power is based on preferences, policy makers must be aware of what seduces people. Attraction is the main characteristic of soft power. Either through culture, values or polices –or all –, soft...

Words: 1746 - Pages: 7

Free Essay


...The History of Inequality: Institutions and Citizenship Throughout history, inequalities have permeated many different societies to different extents. The exclusion of certain groups over the course of centuries and policies that favor the elite more often than not have allowed inequality to persist. Many different policies and factors result in these inequalities, so it can be difficult to narrow down which have the greatest impact, but by examining the history of different programs meant to reduce or perpetuate inequalities, it is clear that the issue of inequalities is one of policy rather than a natural state. According to de Barros, “The inequality caused by unequal opportunities is viewed by most people as fundamentally unfair” (de Barros, 27). This suggests the difference between inequality of opportunity and inequality of outcome. If there seems to be a positive correlation between these two forms of inequality, then we can claim there is something unfair about the system inherently. Furthermore, “some inequality may be tolerated, like inequality caused by differences in effort and talent, particularly when attempts to reduce it could interfere with other ethical objectives, such as privacy and individual freedom. Equality of opportunity is desirable, equality of outcomes (earnings, income, wealth) not necessarily” (de Barros, 27). For example, if a child who, because of chance and circumstance, grows up in a poor family and lacks access to a decent education as...

Words: 1742 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

Aristocracy: Better Than Democracy?

...Aristocracy (Greek ἀριστοκρατία aristokratía, from ἄριστος aristos "excellent," and κράτος kratos "power") is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule.[1] The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best".[2] In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy. In later times, aristocracy was usually seen as rule by a privileged group (the aristocratic class), and contrasted withdemocracy.[1] ------------------------------------------------- Concept The concept evolved in Ancient Greece, whereby a council of famous citizens was commonly used and contrasted with direct democracy in which a council of male citizens was appointed as their "senate". The Greeks did not like the concept of monarchy, and as their democratic system fell, aristocracy was upheld.[1] In Rome, the Republic consisted of an aristocracy as well as consuls, a senate, and a tribal assembly. Later, aristocracies primarily consisted of an elitearistocratic class, privileged by birth and often by wealth. Since the French Revolution, aristocracy has generally been contrasted with democracy, in which all citizens hold some form of political power. However this distinction is often oversimplified. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes describes an aristocracy as a commonwealth in which the representative of the citizens is an assembly by part. Simply put, a government when only a certain part of the general public can...

Words: 3864 - Pages: 16

Free Essay

Elites – the Gen Y Transformers

...ELITES – THE GEN Y TRANSFORMERS Nature abhors vacuum, and so do homo-sapiens. The latter, in its unrelenting quest, goes a step further and evolves to improvise, adapt and overcome. Given the nature of how non-conformist descended from the same ancestor, we’re all the same; and yet we’re so different. At the very outset, the elite, since time immemorial, has enjoyed a stellar reputation by virtue of their elevated status, which was, is and continues to be shaped by their social status; political background; cultural hegemony and/or economical might. There is no doubt in mentioning that the elite has toiled hard, slogged painstakingly and worked tirelessly to mount on the pinnacle in every walk of life. However, the existential question still looms large; to what extent the ‘elite’ has contributed and is contributing in the national and global discourse. The answer may well be fraught with complications, and full of labyrinth cross-questions, but this is what this essay seeks to do. I live in India, a developing economy whose population is over 1.2 billion. Though it is the seventh largest country in terms of area it houses the maximum number of people second to China. If we are optimistic, then in one way we have the second largest manpower in the world and we can use it to do wonders. Infact the steady progress which India has been doing in the past has made the developed nations be wary and cautious of India’s achievements. But, on the contrary, if we look at the real...

Words: 1722 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

Colonialism and Africa

...African states from the level of the state. That is, the nature of the states' inceptions and the underlying flaws may explain some of the issues that have been associated with African states today. Next I examine the development of, or lack of, civil society and the institutions which took place across the continent in the colonial era. In particular, I consider the lack of education and judicial authority and how this affected the formation of the structures which exist in the post-colonial era. Lastly, the economic legacy of colonialism is analysed, and whether the failure of African states to prosper can be explained by colonial practices. State Formation Ever since the boundaries of Africa were drawn up in 1884/5, very little has changed in terms of the continent's territorial divisions. Much has been made of the fact that the post-colonial states which constitute Africa were the products of colonial demarcations, and whose territories are not congruent to existing political and ethnic organizations. Ethnic conflict within states is an unfortunate feature of several African states, and one which undoubtedly retards development of any kind. There has been debate surrounding the nature of African ethnicities and whether they were synthetic constructs created by colonial powers(Berman 1998), or a continuation of traditional polities within the colonial landscape(Spear...

Words: 1734 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

Bgs Models

...Business, Government Society Models Interactions among business, government, and society are infinite and their meaning is open to interpretation. Faced with this complexity, many people use simple mental models to impose order and meaning on what they observe. These models are like prisms, each having a different refractive quality, each giving the holder a different view of the world. Depending on the model (or prism) used, a person will think differently about the scope of business power in society, criteria for managerial decisions, the extent of corporate responsibility, the ethical duties of managers, and the need for regulation. The following four models are basic alternatives for seeing the BGS relationship. As abstractions they oversimplify reality and magnify central issues. Each model can be both descriptive and prescriptive; that is, it can be both an explanation of how the BGS relationship does work and, in addition, an ideal about how it should work. The Market Capitalism Model The market capitalism model, shown in Figure 1.2, depicts business as operating within a market environment, responding primarily to powerful economic forces. There, it is substantially sheltered from direct impact by social and political forces. The market acts as a buffer between business and nonmarket forces. To appreciate this model, it is important to understand the history and nature of markets and the classic explanation of how they work. Markets are as old as humanity, but...

Words: 1872 - Pages: 8

Free Essay

Assess the View That the News Is a Social Construction

...scientific process during which the truth is found and could possibly be a sequence of socially manufactured images. Firstly, I am going to start with a neo-pluralist point of view where (Davies) claim’s that journalists no longer care about the “truth” impartially checking facts. Instead, they repeat “flat-earth” stories which are universally accepted as true and practice churnalism which are “facts” produced by the government in order to not negatively affect the media. Commercial pressures also exist which are facts from official sources are used because they are cheap. This type of news consists of unchecked, second hand materials contrived by PR and to serve some political and commercial interests. Edwards and Cromwell who are Marxists who criticize Davies as he does not fully recognize the role of the owners and advertisers. They state that newspapers and advertisements are used to promote values and idea’s that are popular with elite audiences, elite advertisers and elite journalists....

Words: 814 - Pages: 4

Free Essay

Social Stratification

...   • To  see  stratification  as  a  trait  of  society  rather  than  one  of  individuals,  we   need  to  only  look  at  how  inequality  persists  along  generations.    In  all   societies,  parents  pass  their  social  position  on  to  their  children.     • Social  Mobility-­‐  change  in  one’s  position  in  the  social  hierarchy.     3.    Social  stratification  is  universal  but  variable.   • In  some  societies,  inequality  is  mostly  a  matter  of  prestige;  in  others,   wealth  or  power  is  the  key  dimension  of  difference.    More  importantly   some  societies  display  more  inequality  than  others.   4.    Social  stratification  involves  not  just  inequality  but  beliefs.   • Any  system  of  inequality  gives  some  people  more  than  others...

Words: 1427 - Pages: 6

Premium Essay

Cooperation for Transforming French Economy Cooperation for transforming french economy. If France does not transform its economy in depth, the financial crisis sounds the start of repeated crises. This transformation will not be the result of technical measures, but a radical change of mindset, behavior, know-how on the part of all stakeholders because the economies of the future will be economies of cooperation. While we are going through one of the most serious financial crisis in history that contaminates all economic activities, we still have before us the thick walls against which the other day when our blind and unbridled race to growth-happiness will crash: aging poputlation, public health, dependency, pollution. Our elites employ a method that seems borrowed from the fire station of the eighth arrondissement of Paris, which is a stopgap “to save” or rather limit spending to what is necessary, which leads, nevertheless the deficits. Indeed, during the presidential campaign that just ended, have we not had discussions on accounting amounts that in view of the walls that lie ahead can only increase, even if proportions deserve to be controlled? A light point in the consciousness of some who begin to advocate a re-industrialization of France. However, the potion is still dark, when it is not translated into budget lines or if they promptly doubt its effectiveness. Others recall with great...

Words: 1063 - Pages: 5