Elitist theory holds that the majority of political power is held by arelatively small and wealthy group of people, which share similar principles andinterests.
Most members of this group are born into affluent families. Themajority of top leaders in the United States come from this privileged group.The power elite utilizes a variety of resources to dictate public policy. Theseindividuals tend to hold top management positions within big corporations.
Thesecorporations are used as a powerful tool to dominate the political arena.Corporations are granted immense power, which they use, to protect their owninterests, as well as, shape the interests of ordinary citizens. “Theleadership role that business has in the economy gives executives of largecorporations an unusual kind and degree of influence over governmental policymaking.” (Lindblom 1993:p91) The economic control of corporations plays anessential role in public policy. Depending on how they choose to play the game,large corporations dictate to economic conditions. Politicians must accommodatecorporate interests to protect our sensitive economy.
These accommodations canbe called “corporatism”. Big businesses receive a privileged position bydonating huge amounts of money and support to politicians and their politicalparties. This monetary support buys access into the system. This access, knownas corporate welfare, can be achieved in the forms of favored rates on goods andcommodities, higher interest bond issues, tariff protections, emergency funding,tax breaks and incentives, guaranteed investments, and weak safety standards.The rewards are endless, and they must be worth something because corporationsspend a tremendous amount of money to obtain them. Corporations have existed asearly as the eighteenth century.
The framework of the constitution protectscorporations through its interpretation of property rights. Our constitutionwas founded on a principle that the rights of people with property have to beprivileged. It is true that the framework defended the rights of people, butrights were distributed, even more so, to people who owned property. The framersof the constitution were hardly democratic. They represented their own,personal, privileged, economic interests.
Our founding fathers had a directinterest to establish a government that would protect their holdings andinvestments. The guiding light of the constitution, that still exists today, isclass interest. Privileged powers are protected by, and set a side for, thepower elite. In the United States, affluence and power is attained by wealth andsocial status. Unavoidably, this power is passed onto the common citizen. “Thepower elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend theordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are in positions to makedecisions having major consequences. Whether they do or do not make suchdecisions is less important than the fact that they do occupy such pivotalpositions; their failure to act, their failure to make decisions, is itself anact that is often of greater consequence than the decisions they do make.
(Mills, 1956: p.73) Corporations exercise their power to protect their owninterests. In doing so, they effect the economical, social, and politicalmake-up of society. This power is unique, and is reserved for only a few. TheUnited States is admired for its ideals of equality and opportunity. One canview our system as “a multitude of groups and associations that organizeopenly and freely, to compete with each other for the advancement of suchpurposes as their members may wish.”(Miliband, 1969:p58) Yet, in reality, theUnited States is a far cry from being democratic.
The problem is that groups donot compete on a level playing field. Large corporations enjoy a massivesuperiority compared to smaller businesses, small interest groups, grassrootsorganizations, and individual voters. It is the tightly woven relationshipbetween big business and government that prevents true democracy. Economicinfluence is a magic wand used by large corporations to get their wishesgranted. According to Ralph Miliband,” businesses control the key areas ofeconomic life which makes it extremely difficult for governments to impose uponit policies to which it is firmly opposed.” (1969:p59) In other words,corporations dictate policy whether government likes it or not.
Businessdecisions have a yielding effect on the state of the economy. Choosing todisinvest, downsize, relocate, or, decrease production, often has a negativeimpact on the economy. According to Lindblom, a poor economy will negativelyaffect voters more than anything else, and therefore, politicians must be quickto respond to it.
Politicians must pay special attention to the businesscommunity. (p.91) For, if business is governments customer, then is businessalways right? Miliband suggests, that in abstract, the array of powers andinfluences utilized by business are combated by the equated powers andinfluences obtained by government. (p.61) In reality, government has minimalresources for self-protection. Big corporations are the backbone of government.Without corporate donations, politicians would not be able to effectively securepositions in government. The success of a political campaign highly depends uponefficient funding.
As politicians except huge contributions to enhance theirchances of winning, corporations contribute money to enhance their personalinterests. Perhaps corporations should not be regarded with a negativeconnotation. Rather, the system itself should be blamed for encouraging thesecorrupted relationships. Lindblom suggests that the relationships betweenbusinesses and government are reciprocal. These relationships lend to the ideathat government makes certain choices that benefit corporations, with hopes toassist the economy. Many choices made by government are favored towards thelarge corporations.
However, these very decisions persuade corporations toreciprocate decisions that benefit the economy. For, it is when the economy ison hard times, that citizens scrutinize their representatives. As alreadystated, corporations can choose to negatively impact the economy by decreasingproductivity, mobilizing outside of the country, downsizing, and, in turn, leadthe United States into a recession. To guard their prominent positions,politicians are forced to represent the interests of corporations. Corporationswill continue to play an integral role in our political system because so muchemphasis is placed on the economy. Free enterprise and public policy areindivisible. One cannot be separated from the other.
Instead, society must cometo terms with the idea that politics is business, business is dirty, andtherefore politics is a dirty business. This is not to say that the ordinarycitizen always loses. Certain policies that deal with issues, such as health andthe environment, manage to defeat big business. One example, used by Lindblom,is the National Clean Air Act of 1990. Despite the major efforts ofcorporations, policy reforms were initiated that hindered big businesses, tobenefit the environment. The privileged position that corporations receive makessense. These groups participate more. They are more actively involved in theprocess than any other group.
Large corporations utilize their resources to fundinterest groups, form special relationships with politicians, and are moreinformed than the ordinary citizen. Their access places them into a uniqueposition, whereas, large corporations are able to browbeat government. Out offear, government is forced to share decision-making with corporate bullies. Aslong as this relationship continues, democratic policy-making will be animpossible goal to attain. Corporate giants will continue to interfere withpolicy initiatives that fight pollution, encourage equality, heighten safetystandards, and improve our overall quality of life.
For money runs this country,and the one with the most money usually wins.Bibliography1. Lindblom, Charles E. and Woodhouse, Edward J.
, The Policy-Making Process(1993) New Jersey, Prentice Hall. Pp.90-103 2. Miliband, Ralph., ImperfectCompetition, in Public Policy, The Essential Readings Stella Z. Theodoulou andMatthew A.
Cahn, (1995) New Jersey, Prentice Hall Pp.58-65 3. C. Wright Mills,The Power Elite, in Public Policy, The Essential Readings Stella Z. Theodoulouand Matthew A.
Cahn, (1995) New Jersey, Prentice Hall