This paper seeks to delve into the social, political and economic structures of the United States of America. The study is based on a contention that the American society is stratified, with various sections of its citizenry belonging to one stratum or another. This stratification is based on wealth and the level of income which are determinants or indicators of power. The focus of this work is, thus, on how the income and wealth differentials have become determinants of power in the United States. Therefore, this paper will evaluate the relationship between income and wealth on the one hand and power on the other.
The relationship between wealth, level of income and power has been found to be positive. This implies that wealth and level of income can be relevantly used as indicators of power (Domhoff, 2011). Domhoff contends that inheritance and estate taxes also work to the advantage of the wealthy upper class minority (Domhoff, 2011). Although progressive taxation was established in the US taxation system, the super rich, especially Republican financial donors, have invented new ways of avoiding inheritance taxes for many generations. Progressive taxation does not, therefore, function to create universal suffrage but instead widens the economic and thus the political inequality and disparity between the lower class majority and the upper class minority of the total American population.
In terms of wealth distribution, 1% of the US households forms the upper class and owned 34.6% of the total privately held wealth in America in 2007 (Domhoff, 2011). The lower class households which form 80% of the American population held only 15% of the wealth. This pattern of the economic strength of a small section of the US population remains the same when another variable, income levels, is considered. Economic elite, therefore, rules America, according to Domhoff (Domhoff, 2011). This contention receives approval and disapproval equally from some sections of scholars and the US population. The next section, thus, explores the proponents and opponents of the general view of Domhoff’s postulation that the economically powerful households in the US dominate its polity and, therefore, rule this society.
Proponents of the view that the wealthy rule America
The proponent side of the debate on who rules America tends to agree with the author of “Who Rules America: Wealth, Income and Power” that the wealthy and those with high levels of income, who ironically form 1% of the American households, are people who rule America. According to the proponents of this view, Domhoff is very accurate in his contention that those who belong to elite groups are more often than not involved in various financial services, banking industry, the development of real estates, and government contracting which gives them power over the structures of the society against other non-elite groups. Domhoff (2011) posits that this section of the American elite forms top 1% of the upper class. They are the rulers of American economic, political and technological landscape, and are thus the ideal rulers and drivers of the American society.
Demographically, the proponents of the class-domination and power are those who are victims of a stratified capitalistic American society. They form the significant majority of the American population and are generally industry workers and suppliers of labor for the US industrial sector. In return, their levels of income, and therefore wealth, are very low compared to the minority upper class that has investments in industries and technology in the US production and financial system. They thus form the economic pillar of the American society and use this position to manipulate the technological, political and economic structures of the society to ascend to powerful positions of influence.
On a general note, those who agree with the author that the wealthy and those with high levels of income are the rulers of America based their argument on the class domination theory of power which postulates that since 1776 and up to present, power in America is vested in the hands of those who have money. These could be people with their own income-generating businesses, properties and land. A good example is the former president of the USA George Washington who had huge investments in land, businesses, natural resources, and big real estate development investments (Domhoff, 2011).
In the article, Domhoff defines power as the ability of an individual to achieve his or her wishes and goals even amidst opposition and challenges (Domhoff, 2011). The argument presented by those who support the view that the wealthy are the rulers of America is based on their belief that wealth is a strategic and critical resource in the exercise of power and influence. The wealthy offer financial donations to the political parties, pay lobbyists, and give grants to experts who are involved in the formulation of political, technological and economic policies that govern the operations in the entire society. In this manner, the proponents contend, the wealthy use their income and wealth to create social and economic environments that expand their interests
The wealthy who own significant percentages of stock in the commercial and financial corporations use their wealth to influence and exercise control over corporations which have great influence on the societal functions. This means that the economically powerful elites are ideally controlling or ruling the society through their wealth. The top 1% of the American upper class minority is thus the rulers of the American society, given that they own the largest percentage of the stock in the financial and commercial corporations which the author rates at 38.3% against the bottom 80% of the American lower class population owning only 8.9% of stock (Domhoff, 2011). This illustrates well the contentions of the proponent’s school that America is ruled by the wealthy minority in the 1% upper class of the American socioeconomic strata.
Opponents of the view that the wealthy rule America
The opponents to the author’s postulations that America is ruled by the wealthy would make democracy their major reference point. American society is founded on deep democratic principles in accordance with a free market capitalistic economic principle. This implies that every member of the society is given equal opportunity to invest, exercise democratic rights by disapproving policies and laws that are perceived to champion stratification. In a democratic society like America, the ruling class transcends to new political status through achievement and not ascription. This implies that the ruling class is democratically appointed to the positions of power and authority through a competitive recruitment process that is based not on the wealth of a person but on the qualifications and the competence of majority votes that are realized in the process.
The opponents of this popular Marxists view argue that the progressive taxation system narrows the gap between the wealthy minority and the lower class majority. This is because from the income received from investments, corporations and the financial sector, as well as the government earn a lot of income through taxation. It is thus the wealthy who significantly contribute to the American GDP. However, the lower class also contributes to this income since they are the majority. The lower class section of the American population can also by default be considered the ruling class since they contribute the highest percentage of taxes and form the majority of the American population.
The lower and the middle class that form the majority of the American population are perceived by the opponents of this debate to be the rulers of America. This is because they are considered the owners of labor that facilitates the operations of the industries. They also form the electorate who determine in a social contract through voting, and who rule them in a representative democracy. If the lower class and the middle class owners of labor downed their tools, then the wealthy who have invested in the industrial, commercial and financial sectors would not gain the power that they are reputed for. Thus the middle and lower class populations, by default, are the rulers of America since they are the owners of labor and also form the electorate.
Stake in the Current Distribution of Wealth and Power in America
The current distribution of wealth, income and power should be altered so as to narrow the gap between the upper class and the lower class. This process will enhance dissociation of the link between wealth, income and power by creating equal opportunities for the upper class minority and the lower class majority. The lower class and middle class majority still need selective development policies that will push their socioeconomic scale upwards and minimize the socioeconomic inequalities that currently exist (Domhoff, 2011). This will also empower the lower class to act as checks and balances to ensure that the middle class and the lower class that form the majority of the American population have an opportunity to be on top of the polity.
In conclusion, power in America is directly correlated to income and wealth. This implies that the wealthy have more capacity and ability to become the political leaders of the American society. This is because their economic abilities enable them to influence policies and laws that are passed whether for their egocentric benefits or for the universal good of the society. This trend should, however, be altered through a review of the formula applied in the income and wealth distribution system.