Eitzen - Ch 14 Notes.docx

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Chuck O' Connell

Ch 14 - Power and Politics Oil companies are really wealthy Should the federal government give them subsidies (welfare)? political activities by oil industry - they hope to get favorable legislation Is it ok for them to influence politics? Two possibilities 1) Democracy -competing pressure groups will present their cases. legislators have to compromise and make decisions most beneficial to the public 2) But, these efforts to use money to influence politics means only a privileged few get their way Small companies and individuals don’t have power compared to the wealthy elite Models of National Power Structure (2) elitist model of power - pyramid of power, and people at the top control everything pluralist model of power - power is dispersed and not concentrated, distributed among voters, interest groups, organizations Pluralist models Pluralism I: Representative democracy democracy - form of government in which people have ultimate power, will of majority prevails, equality before the law, and decisions maximize the common good the representatives are elected by the people and are responsive to the wishes of the people The problem: People are in reality powerless, because politicians will deceive them or not tell them the whole truth Campaigns need money to be financed Bipartisan Campaign reform act (mcCain-Feingold law) prevents “soft money” in federal elections. soft money allows individuals, corporations, unions, to raise money for candidates who are independent Indirect $ for candidates money can buy votes, and a disproportionate amount can go to powerful people it takes money to be a successful politician Pluralism II: Veto Groups Each interest group is concerned with its own interests Balance of power - they neutralize because they want to prevent the others from threatening their interests Criticisms: It’s not realistic as a model Why? 1) Some interest groups have more power than others eg: Big Business vs farmers coalition 2) Power structure is not amorphous, and doesn’t shift constantly 3) The wealthier interest groups come out on top Elitist Models elitist views of societal power similar to Marx’s ideas Economics is basis for stratification system - unequal distribution of rewards like power Economic elite owns and controls the economy, has biggest influence on government, and = ruling class Manipulate public via media State serves interest of capitalist class instrumentalist view - a view of power held by some Marxists that the ruling class controls political institutions through money and influence. Other Marxists accept the structuralist view of power structuralist view -AMarxian interpretation of power arguing that the ruling class gets its way because the political and economic institutions are biased in its favor not active manipulation, just bias Power Elite I (from thesis of C. Wright Mills, 1956): key people in three sectors: Corporate rich, Executive Branch of government, and the Military Middle: local opinion groups (interest groups) Bottom: unorganized masses Believed power elite relatively new phenomenon; decisions of small groups more consequential Factors giving rise to emergence of power elite: power and violence Infinitely greater than they were in the past Increasingly centralized Transportation and communication, economy, warfare enlarged / centralized Economy - dominated by <200 giant corporations Communication/transportation - advances make it easier for the people in power to coordinate their actions for mutual advantage Media influence on the masses Mobilization for WWII and Cold War - military in decision making process, corporations dependent on defense contracts, exec. branch exercised semi autonomous powers Power elite - an interlocking directorate of people in the three key domains making coordinated decisions. They are a self-conscious cohesive unit. 3 factors: 1. Psychological similarity - derived from same social origin and lifestyles 2. Social interaction - interact socially, children in same school, do business, etc. 3. Coinciding interests - again, the corporations want defense contracts, the government needs defense and will make policy beneficial to the other elites Problems with Mills’theory Mills also believed that the three elite subunits were more or less equal But many others (Domhoff) believe that the business leaders are the real power elite Surpass military in power, many people in exec. branch have business ties Mills believed the power elite is a group that acts in concert But evidence points to the heads of the 3 sectors not composing a group Leads to disagreements There are also pressure groups other than business / military (organized labour, farmers, professional organizations) that have a lot of power Congress is only in the middle level of the power structure But there are mavericks (old guys) that exert tremendous powers to pass / block legislation Power Elite II (Domhoff’s “Governing Class” Theory) - more broadly based in a dominant class Uppermost social group (1%) that owns disproportionate amt of country’s wealth and contributes disproport. number of members to controlling institutions / groups in country Mainly rich business people and their families - closely knit Dominant class controls executive branch, corporations, media, foundations, universities… By extension, controls the important regulatory agencies, judiciaries, military, CIA, etc. Has greater influence on Congress and state and local government than any other group Because they control exec. and judicial branches, so 2 against 1 Policies designed to accomplished U.S. interests designed to benefit the rich Impact of the elite on decision making structure Control of presidential nominations through funding of political campaigns Control of both major political parties Almost total staffing of important appointive governmentl positions Basically Dumhoff’s model was a refinement of that of Mills, but both: View power structure as a single pyramid See corporate rich as most powerful interest group Relegate Congress to relatively minor role; executive branch important role View masses as dominated by powerful forces rather than having much grassroots power Major difference: Domhoff asserted complete ascendancy of upper class to apex of power Saw military as having much less power; dominated by executive / corporate rich Criticisms of Domhoff’s theory No proof that people like presidential advisors, cabinet members, ambassadors, regul. agency members, etc. promote the interests of the
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