Who Rules?

By Dr. Frank Elwell

 

Who Rules?

Many governments claim to be democratic, but few actually are.

The former Soviet Union, China, even North Korea claim to be democratic.

Who Rules?

Even the claims of such countries as England, the U.S. and Canada that "the people" hold the political power are open to question.

Who Rules?

The People

In an ideal democracy political power is shared equally by all citizens.

But today's nation-states are too large for direct participation by everyone, making elected representatives a power group that supposedly represent the people.

The People

But, do elected representatives express the interests of the majority of their constituents?

Majority rule is possible, but there are some sizeable obstacles in the way.

The People

One of the major problems of any democracy is the apathy of its citizens.

The People

Only 60 to 70% of registered voters actually participate in presidential elections, and voter turnout for lesser offices is much smaller.

And because many eligible voters never register, these figures actually overestimate the extent of public interest.

The People

The People

These 34 people out of a possible 100 have given the Democratic Party a "mandate" to rule in the name of the "majority."

The People

The People

Studies of citizen participation reveal that those who most need government's help are least likely to participate in the political process.

People with higher incomes and better education are much more likely to participate.

The People

Minorities and the poor are less likely to vote.

Other forms of political participation, such as working in a political campaign or participating in a political rally, are even less common than voting.

The People

It seems that wealth and education create the interest and the resources for political participation.

The People

Even the citizen who is interested in politics often finds it difficult to discover where a particular politician really stands on an issue.

The People

Politicians often try to conceal their opinions about controversial issues. In addition, voters seldom get a chance to talk directly with candidates, relying instead on the mass media for their information.

The People

Effective campaigners try to project a positive image in their advertising, which often have little to do with the issues. There is also a tendency to smear your opponent--often with half-truths.

The People

In a recent state-of-the-union message by Clinton, commentators complained of its length and its lack of catchy phrases. "Where's the bumper-sticker?" one asked.

The People

Advertising agencies sell candidates like deodorants. In a 30-second television spot there is little time for serious consideration of political issues.

The People

The press has a business agenda to sell papers. They tend to emphasize the "horse race" aspect of the campaign.

The People

Also, candidates of minor political parties have little access to the media and are thus frozen out of the arena of serious political debate.

Pluralism

Social scientists who believe that government is influenced by a shifting coalition of interest groups are called pluralists.

Pluralism

According to this view, legislators and other government officials are influenced by interest groups with a particular stake in specific legislation.

Pluralism

These groups include physicians, realtors, labor unions, oil companies, and numerous others are called interest groups or "special-interests."

Pluralism

Many such groups are concerned with laws and policies that affect their economic well-being.

Pluralism

Others come together because of their feelings about certain issues. Examples include anti-abortion groups, civil liberties groups, and patriotic groups.

Pluralism

Power and influence depends on:

Pluralism

A group must be able to motivate its members to contribute and vote in accordance with the issues of the group. The degree of organization is key, as is the money at its disposal.

Pluralism

Lobbying various legislative bodies is the principal activity of most special interest groups. They try to convince lawmakers to pass the legislation the group desires.

Pluralism

One of the main tools of the lobbyist is information. Legislators usually are not experts on all the legislation they must consider.

Pluralism

Lobbyists also try to influence legislation by cultivating the friendship of individual legislators. Many Washington lobbyists are notorious for their lavish parties.

Pluralism

A lobbyist's promise of political support from a powerful special interest often determines an elected official's decision.

Threats by a special interest to support a politician's opposition can also be effective.

PACs

Money is one of the special interests main tools.

PACs

Modern political campaigns require large sums of money, and some groups are very generous in their contributions to legislators who support their interest.

PACs

For example, in a textbook case of special interest politicking, the National Rifle Association donated tens of thousands of dollars to lawmakers in the weeks just before they cast deciding votes against consideration of the 1994 Crime Bill.

PACs

An AP computer analysis of NRA contributions to the House since the start of the 1994 election cycle found the group gave nearly 88% of its $621,000 in donations to lawmakers who opposed the crime bill.

PACs

PACs

The contributions to campaigns by Political Action Committees has grown dramatically over the years.

PACs

Many have suggested that because of PACs, we have the best Congress that money can buy.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

Growth of factions due to:

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

Just as the technology of networking people was emerging we see a proliferation of government programs which created fresh issues to get interested in

Combined, the two factors were explosive

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

Since the 1960s, the technologies have multiplied relentlessly: computerized mass mailings, the personal computer, the fax, the Internet, increasingly powerful software for keeping tabs on member or perspective members.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

The number of political associations has grown in lockstep with communications technology.

One indication of this growth: the size of the American Society of Association Executives went from 2,000 members in 1965 to 20,000 in 1990.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

A century ago lobbying was done on behalf of the titans of industry. Now just about everyone belongs to one interest group or another.

Some Interest Groups:

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

That lobbying has embraced the middle class hardly means that it is now an equal opportunity enterprise.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

Wealthy people can still afford more of it, the poor are still on the sidelines.

It is no accident that in this kind of pluralism, payments to the poor are the most vulnerable items in the budget.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

Interest groups are not "them"; they are "us."

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

All of these lobbies are usually asking for money, whether in the form of crop subsidies for farmers, tax breaks for shopkeepers, Medicare, Social Security payments, lower taxes on beer, or other benefits.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

So the increasingly "democratic" face of interest group politics means the American government is asked to pay more, which means that Americans of all classes are being asked to pay more.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

The costs of each groupís selfishness are spread diffusely across the whole nation while the benefits are captured by the group.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

Though every group might prosper in the long run if all groups surrendered some benefits, it makes no sense for any of them to surrender unilaterally.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

All this means that the corruption of the public interest by special interests is not an easily cured pathology, but a stubbornly rational pattern of behavior.

Pluralism: The Problem of Factions

It is a beautiful example of Weberís "irrationality factor":

Accurate information, rationally processed, leads groups to undermine the public good.

Power Elite

Elitists would agree with most of the pluralistís analysis, but basically label it as "small change."

Power Elite

Real power, they claim, resides in the hands of a small, unified, ruling class. A power elite.

Power Elite

Although radicals have long argued that America is dominated by a small group of powerful men, it was Millís book, The Power Elite, published in the 1950s, that started the current debate.

Power Elite

Supporters of the idea that the US and other capitalist nations are ruled by a small group are called elitists.

Note that elitists do not advocate that this is good, only that it is so.

Power Elite

Elitists see three levels of power in American society.

At the bottom of the heap are the great masses of people--unorganized, ill informed, and virtually powerless.

Power Elite

The masses can be whipped up to support various policies by media campaigns.

The masses have become particularly volatile with increasingly sophisticated communications technology.

Power Elite

Between the masses and the elite are the "middle levels" of power, where some true competition between interest groups still exists.

Power Elite

Mills saw the US Congress as a reflection of these middle levels of power.

The elite compete in this arena (and tend to dominate it with their resources), but this is pretty minor league stuff.

Power Elite

According to Mills, although Congress decides some minor issues, the power elite ensures that no serious challenge to its control is tolerated in the political arena.

Power Elite

The power elite is a coalition of people in the highest ranks of the economy, government, and the military who together form a unified ruling class.

Power Elite

One of the major sources of unity of the power elite is its membersí common social background.

They come from upper-class white families from urban areas.

Power Elite

They attend the same prep schools, the same ivy league colleges, and share the same attitudes toward the world and their positions in it.

The social networks that they represent are closely interconnected, with many common interests.

Power Elite

The power elite does not represent some great conspiracy of evil men, but rather the leaders of the dominant organizations of American life.

Power Elite

The power of the elite does not come from their personal wealth, but rather from their positions at the top of the bureaucratic hierarchies that dominate American life.

Power Elite

These leaders meet socially and they often coordinate their activities through membership in common organizations.

Power Elite

Their institutional positions also assure common values and outlook.

Personal wealth, while not the source of power, does give them initial access to these positions.

Power Elite

More recent writings of the elitist school accept Millsí conclusion that power is concentrated and centralized, but question his inclusion of the military leadership in the power elite.

Most are now convinced that critical decisions are made by an economic-political elite.

Power Elite

Mills believed that the power elite was a relatively new phenomenon resulting from a number of historical and social forces that have enlarged and centralized the facilities of power, making the decisions of the elite much more consequential than in any other age.

Power Elite

Growth of elite:

Power Elite

The key decision makers now have instruments to influence the masses, such as television, PR Firms, and techniques of propaganda and violence that are unsurpassed in the history of mankind.

Power Elite

The tremendous advances in transportation and communication have also made it much more likely that the elite can coordinate their power.

Power Elite

With the rise of bureaucracy, power is much more centralized in hyper-industrial societies.

Power Elite

Though having something quite different in mind, Mills would agree with Ronald Reagan when he said: "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."