The Power Elite control the United States of America
The following is the frequently-requested text text of and supporting material for Bruce Tyson’s speech on the American Power Elite.
TITLE: THE POWER ELITE CONTROL THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TOPIC: The role of the Power Elite class in America
SPECIFIC PURPOSE: To persuade my audience that the Power Elite, not “We the people” control America.
CENTRAL IDEA: In spite of the popular notion that America is governed by “the people,” reality is that America is controlled in every aspect by a select social class known as the “Power Elite.”
The preamble of the Constitution of the United States says, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” We know that our union is not perfect, but we all like to think that the people are in charge of it. Around election time we hear flowery terms such as “Democracy” and rule of the people. Unfortunately, the notion that we the people are in control is a delusion.
As a student of sociology, I have been very interested in the roles of social class and stratification in our country. I quote sociologists Borgatta & Montgomery who tell us that
“Stratification refers to structural inequalities in the distribution of such scarce values as income, wealth, power, authority, and prestige. To the extent that such inequalities result in the clustering of similarly situated individuals and families,” (Borgatta & Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Sociology Vol. 1, 2000, p. 141).
Although such stratification normally develops within any group, it is such inequalities that have been manipulated by the most fortunate to secure a tenacious grasp on power in the United States.
Today, I am going to convince you that – in spite of the constitution and our founding fathers – power rests not in the hands of the people, but in the hands of a very small class of people called the Power Elite.
I base my assertion on the fact that the ultra wealthy in America (not people like you and me) control the justice, economic, educational, and political systems. This control has been willingly ceded by the American people and taken by the power elite.
I. The Power Elite control the American economy.
This group called the “Power Elite” by American sociologist C. Wright Mills, is a group of approximately 1% of the US population that controls over 40% of all assets in the United States. If we consider families, 68% of the wealth in the USA is controlled by only 10% of families. These are corporate, political, and military leaders. This leaves your family and mine – along with 90% of all American families – to struggle to get our piece of the remaining 32% (Henslin, 2006, p. 187). Sociologist James Henslin presents us with
a visual representation of what this means:
If a 1-½-inch child’s block equals $500 of income, the average American is only 8 feet off the ground, the average family just 13 feet, while the income of some families propels them past the top of Mount Everest. (Henslin, 2006, p. 187)
I’m sure that none of us would object if we found ourselves within the ranks of the Power Elite, but those who work hard and try to better themselves often become frustrated at the game (often called the rat race) that has odds so hopelessly stacked against them.
a. The Power Elite control the American economy by controlling production.
Most of us have jobs (we work for other people). The reason we do this is because we cannot on our own acquire the means to provide the goods and services we produce. Have you ever tried to start an oil company? How about an auto company? A bank? A pharmaceutical company? All these things were possible in days gone by, but now, the majority of Americans are shut out. Not being able to own the means of production, we are forced into working for those who can (and do) own it.
b. The Power Elite use the American economy to preserve their own way of life.
The power elite exploit the American people by controlling wealth. Have you ever noticed who gets the best interest rates? It’s the wealthy” of course! NY Senator Chuck Schumer recently came under fire for accepting loans from Countrywide at rates far below typical, even though he could afford more. This is just one example of how the elite have used the positions given to them by the people to strengthen their own social class.
Supporting Material for I:
Henslin, J. (2006). Essentials of Sociology: a down-to-earth approach (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
The influence of the power elite is not limited to just our economy.
II. The power elite control American Justice
Matthew B. Robinson, Professor of Political Science and Criminal Justice at Appalachian State University, wrote:
When the media ignore harmful acts committed by the wealthy, such as white-collar crime (Potter and Kappeler, 1998; Surette, 1998) and corporate crime (Evans and Lundman, 1987; Randall, 1995), it is troubling for one major reason: the harms associated with such acts clearly dwarf all street crimes combined in any given year (THE MOUSE WHO WOULD RULE THE WORLD!).
The reason some crime is highlighted more than other crime is because the power elite control our criminal justice system.
i. According to Henslin, The Power Elite “makes certain that laws are passed that will protect its position in our society” (Henslin, 2006, p. 147). This power elite group determines “who gets sent to prison and who does not” (Henslin, 2006, p. 147)
ii. I agree with the likes of Spitzer, Chambliss, and Sheldon who observe that American law is designed to help the power elite maintain their position of privilege in our society (Henslin, 2006, p. 148). By keeping the working class afraid to rebel for fear of imprisonment, the Power Elite feel secure, while allowing the hordes of criminal corporate and political figures to continue with impunity.
Supporting Material for II:
Robinson, M. B. (n.d.). THE MOUSE WHO WOULD RULE THE WORLD! Retrieved from Univeristy of Albany SUNY: http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol10is1/robinson.pdf
Henslin, J. (2006). Essentials of Sociology: a down-to-earth approach (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
But still, my case concerning the Power Elite cannot be complete without mentioning.
III. The power elite control American education.
a. I quote again Borgatta & Montgomery who spake of our society,
The same social processes that had concentrated political power had created a society of increasingly fragmented individuals whose lives and interests were shaped for them from above. Information filtered selectively through bureaucratized institutions of mass education and the mass media, which became more susceptible to elite manipulation as they became more centralized. (Borgatta & Montgomery, 2000, p. 2625)
b. According to Mills,
“Educational institutions had developed into sites of large-scale vocational training rather than havens for the development of critical thought and an informed citizenry necessary for democratic politics” (Borgatta & Montgomery, 2000, p. 2625)
Supporting Material for III:
Borgatta, E., & Montgomery, R. (Eds.). (2000). Encyclopedia of Sociology Vol. 4. New York: MacMillan Reference USA.
So in reality, we are not here today just to improve our own lives, but we are here to enrich the Power Elite class that profits from us. Finally, we now consider that:
IV. The Power Elite control American politics.
Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address described American government as “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and professed a hope that such government would not “perish from the earth.” Unfortunately it has in our case perished because American politics exist only for the pleasure of the Power Elite..
a. The Power Elite control American politics as reflected by politicians
A look at our political landscape should trouble all of us: those who are elected to national office are almost entirely part of the 1% that control a disproportionate amount of American wealth. Even our newly elected president has a net worth of over $1.3 million (Harris, 2008) not counting his wife’s income. This means that his family already is wealthier than 94% of all Americans. “Ordinary Americans” like us can easily conclude that, we are unlikely to amass the wealth needed to even consider running for political office.
Now the American power elite uses politics to further entrench themselves as the power base in America
b. The power elite control American politics as reflected by the electoral process
i. By far, the majority of the United States voted against Barack Obama in our recent election [Exhibit 2: Election results by county]. By manipulating several population centers, the power elite used the electoral college system to ensure victory for their candidate [Exhibit 3: Plurality of votes by city] (Kelso, et al., 2008).
ii. Political Action Committees and special interest groups now have sole control over important legislation, “The unorganized general public retains only an episodic and delayed power to ratify or reject whole programs of government action” (Borgatta & Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Sociology Vol. 1, 2000, p. 144)
iii. Finally, I complete the circle by connecting the power elite’s control of wealth with its control of politics. To do this, I cite the recent bailouts of financial institutions, banks, and credit card companies by our federal government. Here we see that the ruling political class exists only to serve the power elite, for when their sponsors get in a little trouble with failed policies, flawed business plans, and bad products, the government is willing to take money by force from your income and mine to sustain the standing of the power elite.
Supporting material for IV:
The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. (2008). Retrieved November 8, 2008, from Abraham Lincoln Online: http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm
Harris, M. (2008). Millionaires in Cheif – Obama’s money (5). Retrieved November 10, 2008, from Money Magazine: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/moneymag/0712/gallery.candidates.moneymag/5.html
Kelso, V., Thorp, G., Post, T. W., Hurt, A., Hurt and Nelson Hsu, w., Sanderson, L., et al. (2008, November). Presidential Election Winners by County. Retrieved Nov 8, 2008, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/campaign08/election/uscounties.html
Borgatta, E., & Montgomery, R. (Eds.). (2000). Encyclopedia of Sociology Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: MacMillan Reference USA.
Now that we know that the power of the people has been usurped by the ultra wealthy of our nation, what can we do to regain power? The answer to the problem of the Power Elite is not to forcibly take their wealth and give it to others. I think the solution is to take steps to weaken the influence of the Power Elite so that we too may have the potential to be part of that class.
In spite of all this, I am still glad that I am an American. I’m just one American who recognizes that “the people” don’t matter.
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