Of the three power models in the textbook, for this assignment choose one model and describe a real-world example in a presentation (8-10 minutes). You can use PowerPoint or some other presentation program for this assignment. Your presentation must address the following:
Describe how your real-world example aligns with your selected power model, identifying similar characteristics.
Explain how your real-world example illustrates the unequal levels of power and stratified class systems in American society.
Explain the positive and negative consequences of having unequal levels of power in the example you provided. How is this unequal level of power maintained?
Explain the function of social roles, positions, and status related to class are presented in your example.
Explain a theoretical perspective related to social class that explains your real-world example as it pertains to inequality.
three models are below.
The Class ModelThe class model of the American power structure derives from the Marxian theory of inequality, discussed in Chapter 2. Power is seen as originating in the society’s institutions of property and the class relations that derive from them. Political power, in this view, is exercised by those who control Three Models of Power in America 371the means of production, that is, the capitalist class. Societal power, there-fore, is concentrated in the hands of a few and is not subject to control by political institutions no matter how democratic they may seem to be. This obviously does not conform to the common perceptions of the structure of power and political behavior held by most Americans.The Instrumentalist View There are two ways of viewing the power struc-ture using a Marxian, or class, perspective. One view holds that members of the capitalist class do not necessarily govern, in the sense of occupying political offices, but they rule, by controlling political officials and institu-tions (Gold et al., 1975). The critical question in this view is, Who are the people in strategic positions? Theorists using this perspective have investi-gated the relations between top corporate and political decision makers, usually finding them to be of similar social backgrounds with a strong understanding of common purpose. Corporate leaders and others of the capitalist class act in concert with political and other institutional leaders to protect capitalist interests and preserve the prevailing class system, from which, of course, they benefit the most.In addition to the direct political influence of the corporate elite through exchange of strategic positions with government leaders, capitalist control is effected through campaign financing and lobbying. As discussed later in this chapter, the major contributors to the campaigns of political office seek-ers are corporations and the independently wealthy, that is, the capitalist class. Lobbying is another tool capitalist interests use to mold government policies in their favor. Through these means, then, the capitalist class is able to influence the decisions of politicians and their appointees in government agencies.The Structuralist View Another class, or Marxian-influenced, perspective on power contends that the interpersonal linkage between political and eco-nomic elites is of little importance in assuring the maintenance of capitalist class interests by the state. They argue that the structure of political and economic institutions in capitalist society makes it imperative that the state serve those interests regardless of whether capitalists directly or indirectly take part in state affairs. Attempts to influence government policymakers through campaign contributions, lobbying, and so on, are merely “icing on the cake.” Plainly, the state cannot carry through anticapitalist policies because of mechanisms built into the modern capitalist political economy (Block, 1977; Poulantzas, 1973). Politicians, therefore, come naturally to view the interests of dominant economic groups as fundamental to a prosperous socioeconomic system and are prepared to accede to their needs more readily than to those of other interest groups. Recall from Chapter 9 the prepared-ness of the federal government to assist weak sectors of the corporate economy through subsidies and other aids or to rescue failing industries and banks.mar26938_ch12_365-403.indd Page 371 21/01/13 10:24 AM user /201/MH01841/mar26938_disk1of1/0078026938/mar26938_pagefiles ong corporate and government lead-ers are unimportant. Since the viability of the state is dependent on a healthy economy, state leaders must promote the interests of big business, that is, the large corporations, regardless of who they are or what their views may be. If the economy declines, tax revenues dry up, imperiling government programs and weakening public support for elected officials and other government leaders. The political scientist Charles Lindblom has neatly summarized this relationship:If business is not induced to perform, the result is economic distress. When the economy fails, the Government falls. . . . Hence, no category of persons is more attentive to the needs of business than the Govern-ment official. Businessmen consequently do not need to strain or con-spire to win privileges already thrust on them by anxious legislators and administrators. (1978:A19)In sum, whether because of influence on government leaders or because of the structural nature of the political economy, class theorists agree that the state sooner or later must weigh the interests of the capitalist class more heavily than others. Moreover, in modern capitalist societies the distinction between government leaders and corporate officials becomes less meaning-ful. With the active role of government in the making of economic policy, the various forms of public financial support given to private corporations, and the constant crossover of personnel from one sphere to the other, key economic and political decisions are often made by officials of government and corporations in concert.The energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001 pro-vides a vivid illustration of government and corporate elites’ collaboration to further their mutual interests. The group was formed just nine days after the presidential inauguration, its purpose ostensibly to iron out the new administration’s energy policy. Cheney refused to make public what had been discussed or how decisions had been made in meetings (or even the identity of the participants), but later accounts reported that that essentially secret body was composed, along with administration officials, almost exclusively of top corporate officers of the electricity, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power companies. Those corporate officers included executives of Enron, who later would be convicted of fraud in the wake of their com-pany’s demise, as well as Halliburton, the firm Cheney had run for five years before becoming vice president (Pasternak, 2001). Virtually all the corporate representatives were heavy financial contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign. There were no representatives of environmental, labor, or other public sectors that would be affected by the decisions of this cote-rie of government and corporate elites. As might be expected, the group’s final report called for measures that directly catered to the economic and political interests of the nation’s major energy industries. Alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, were given short shrift, and the views of environmentalists were to all intents and purposes ignored. Three Models of Power in America 373The Power Elite ModelThe power elite model begins with the premise that societal power is concen-trated in elite groups that control the resources of key societal institutions. Moreover, masses, though not completely powerless, can exert little control over the decisions of elites. The presumption that societal power is concentrated in the hands of a few is, of course, also a fundamental premise of the class model. But the origins of societal power, in the power elite view, lie not in the institutions of property and the class relations that derive from them but in the control of social organizations, particularly the state and the corporation.This perspective, like the class model, runs counter to the common American view of how leaders relate to citizens and how the power of the former is kept in check by the latter. But in this view, the dominant relationship of elites to masses is prevalent in all societies, democratic or not. The composition of the elites and the basis of their power may vary at different times, but the essential fact of elite rule remains unchanged.Mills and the Power Elite In Chapter 4, C. Wright Mills’s theory of the power elite was introduced (Mills, 1956). To reiterate briefly, Mills held that a small group of leaders made up of top corporate executives, key government officials, and the highest-ranking military officers constitute an American power elite. These are the persons who actually have the capacity to make basic decisions in their institutions and thus to determine the society’s key policy issues, both public and private.Aside from the power elite, what is the actual structure of power in American society, according to Mills? Do the masses have a role to play at all, or is the power elite beyond the control of citizens? Mills concep-tualized the hierarchy of power in the United States as a trilevel arrange-ment: the power elite at the top, the masses at the bottom, and a middle level of power wherein less consequential political decisions are made (Figure 12-2). This middle level consists essentially of Congress, important state and local political officials, organized labor, and various pressure Figure 12-2 ■ Mills’s Model of the American Power StructureMiddle level of power(members of Congress,state and localgovernment officiallabor leaders,interest group leaders)Power elite(top corporateexecutives,top officials federal government,top military chiefs)Massesmar26938_ch12_365-403.indd Page 373 21/01/13 10:24 AM user /201/MH01841/mar26938_disk1of1/0078026938/mar26938_pagefiles mong the middle-level groups, but they are of little consequence in deciding the society’s larger issues.At the bottom, the bulk of the populace is relatively disorganized, inert, and in the process of becoming a “mass,” that is, a society that responds with no countervoice to decisions made by a centralized power elite. The transformation of the American public into a mass society is due largely to the nature of mass communications, in which most people only receive but cannot respond to opinions voiced by organized authorities. Political ends are accomplished through successful manipulation of the populace, using such primary means as television. According to Mills, “The public is merely the collectivity of individuals each rather passively exposed to the mass media and rather helplessly opened up to the suggestions and manipulations that flow from these media” (1956:305).The reaction among social scientists and other social observers to Mills’s description of power in the United States was at first mainly negative. The Power Elite was published in 1956, and power in the United States during the 1950s was seen by most as a balanced plurality of various interest groups, none of which was dominant. The idea that a small and relatively cohesive group could determine the basic shape of political and economic life in the society did not sit well with those pluralist assumptions. Not until the late 1960s, after the society had experienced the reality of bitter and often violent domestic conflict, as well as the hubris of presidential power in Vietnam, was Mills’s thesis reconsidered.Perhaps the most important aspect of Mills’s work is that it compelled political sociologists to rethink basic ideas about power in contemporary America. The Power Elite has become a classic work largely because of the controversy it initially aroused and still continues to provoke. Indeed, much of the research on power in the United States in the last several decades has been, by and large, a response to Mills’s thesis.The Pluralist ModelThe class and power elite models coincide on the notion that societal power is held by a small, self-serving group—either a ruling class or a power elite. Americans, however, are reluctant to think of politics as the conflict between social classes or the covert actions of elites. The pluralist model breaks sharply from these ideas.Specifically, pluralism can be contrasted with the class and elite models on two major points. First, pluralists see societal power as fragmented rather than as resting in the hands of a relatively centralized and cohesive few. Whereas elite and class theorists see the power pie as uncut, pluralists see it divided into many pieces. Second, pluralists see average citizens as having meaningful input into decision making, thus exerting effective power over leaders; elite and class theorists see average citizens as having little real control over leaders and thus having little or no say in the shaping and resolution of the most important and far-reaching societal issues. Three Models of Power in America 375It is clear, then, why pluralism is more palatable to the American political mind: It is based on the democratic image of the sociopolitical system into which Americans are socialized from their earliest school experience. The distrust of an all-powerful government is also a fundamental part of the American political tradition, and again pluralism complements this belief quite well. Most simply, pluralist systems are usually seen as democratic systems, and there is a tendency to equate the two. A well-functioning plural-ist system is one in which no single group among many diverse groups is able to impose its will on the society as a whole. This is contrasted to an oligarchic system, in which a single group rules with minimal accountability to the citizenry.Interest Groups Pluralists, unlike elite and class theorists, see a role for the masses in the power process. This is accomplished largely through the interest group system. The critical nature of interest groups as a democra-tizing force in politics was first suggested by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s in his commentary on American society. Tocqueville pointed out that the ascendance of industrialization and the diffusion of democratic ideas in Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries caused the demise of a social aristocracy. This was a group that had traditionally served as an intermediary between the ruling monarch and the masses. In prein-dustrial societies an aristocracy stood as a stabilizing and generally benign force, acting as a filter of sorts through which the monarch’s power was moderated as it passed down to the lower social levels. Tocqueville felt that without such an intermediate level of power, a society might easily be swept up by either an all-powerful tyrant or a “tyranny of the majority.”In modern democratic societies such as the United States, however, Tocqueville saw no aristocracy. What, then, substitutes for this important middle level of power? His answer: a network of well-organized volun-tary associations, representing economic, political, and religious inter-ests. Tocqueville was especially impressed with the American tendency to form innumerable autonomous and private organizations whose pur-poses were to further an almost endless variety of goals and activities. In Tocqueville’s view this middle layer of organizations between rulers and masses serves a dual purpose. First, it prevents elites from exerting unmitigated power, and second, it provides the citizenry with a means of input into the power process. In other words, it is through these organiza-tions that citizens are able to influence societal leaders and hold them accountable.The existence of pluralism within government itself was also seen by Tocqueville as highly significant in the maintenance of political democracy. He was convinced that the American system of separation of powers and the proliferation of state and local units of government were additional safeguards against the growth of an all-powerful state. Thus, many compet-ing power centers, he observed, typify the politics of American society both inside and outside its governmental institutions.
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