Like it or not, we live in a society divided by a number of factors, including ethnicity, education, language, religion, skin hue (sadly), and others. But the biggest dividing line of all, and the hardest one to transcend, is economic class.
Economically, we have our poor, our so-called working/laboring class, our middle and upper-middle classes, and, high above all the others, our ultra-wealthy.
The super-wealthy have other labels, such as ownership class, super-rich, the top 1%, the moneyed class, the “upper-crust”, the aristocracy, and elite class.
Much of this class inherits its wealth, has been wealthy over generations, and is sometimes referred to as “old money”.
There are also relative newcomers to this class. Just one example of this is Jeff Bezos, founder/owner of Amazon. No rags-to-riches story, he was born into an upper-middle-class family, but is now arguably the richest man in the world, with at least $150 billion in estimated wealth, which is still increasing rapidly.
This tiny top economic group includes the people who have the real power in our society. These ultra-wealthy elites are sometimes called the financial elites, the “command class”, and in a salute to our current dominant economic system that serves the few so well at the expense of the many, The Capital Class.
The Power Elite
The great American sociologist C. Wright Mills, identified the “Power Elite” in his book of the same name in the late 1950s. He gave us this most appropriate name for the people who actually call the shots in our nation and, increasingly, the world.
Luxury Isn’t the Problem
The luxuries and trappings of great wealth are not really a significant problem for society, taken by themselves. Indeed these trappings have been a source of fascination and entertainment for regular people, from the Gilded Age of well over 100 years ago, down to recent television shows like “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous”.
Possessing multiple mansions, fleets of luxury vehicles, private jets, huge yachts and armies of private service-people from Butlers to Chauffeurs, does no one any great harm, and is not a significant cause of today’s increasing popular anger at elites.
There Are Huge Differences in Earnings Between the Top and the Other 99+ Percent, and Where Do You Fall?
We hear the term, “the top 1%”. But what does this really mean, in terms of being compared to all other earners in America, and the percentage they are calculated to be located in?
It is illuminating to see where different incomes fall.
Someone who works a 40-hour work week and earns $25,000/year is calculated to be in, coincidentially, the 25th percentile. A person who makes $50,000/year for 40 hours is placed at the 56th percentile and is above-average income.
$70,000/year is at the 72nd percentile. $90,000/year is at the 81st percentile, meaning that 80% of the nation’s workers earn less than 90k/year.
If you gross 100k/year, pat yourself on the back for earning enough to put you at the 85th percentile, a salary bigger than 84% of the population!
The top 1% boundary starts at a little over 300K/year in America. This range, generally spoken of as “upper-middle” class, will include many high-level professionals such as surgeons, top scientists and engineers, lawyers and accountants, and medium-sized business owners. We normally see this group as “merit-based” and not undeservedly or excessively wealthy. This group is certainly not among the Power Elite.
People who earn consistently at this 1% threshold level for say, 30 years, will gross approximately 9 to 10 million dollars in total earnings in their lifetimes. While very desirable, this hardly seems excessive, or harmful to society, in terms of “hoarding” resources. It seems reasonable compared to the very top money-makers–the mega-millionaires and billionaire class.
The true Power Elite actually comprise a small percentage of the top 1%, perhaps the top 1/50th or even 1/100th of the top 1%. They are the folks who make, by far, the most money of anybody in America.
The threshold 99-percenters are not even close.
(To see where you fall in comparative US income percentages, check out tdqydj.com.)
Elites’ Opulent Luxury Isn’t the Problem; It’s the Power That Counts
Most of the harm to the general society comes not from the luxuries enjoyed by the ultra-wealthy, but from the disproportionate, and still-growing power this miniscule group of people have over our supposedly democratic society.
In addition, the hoarding of astronomical wealth in the portfolios of the very few, makes that wealth unavailable to the great masses of working people, many of whom are characterized as “working poor”, and are financially insecure, despite working full time, or even more than full time.
This makes a mockery of our purportedly representative government of, by and for “The People”, and an economic system that supposedly offers “equal opportunity for all”.
Hence, the term, Power Elite is an accurate label for the tiny fraction of 1% who actually control most of the major aspects of our public and economic lives, along with most of our society’s wealth.
Ownership Is Power; Mega-Ownership Is the Greatest Power
The primary sources of elite power are multinational corporations and the biggest financial institutions and banks. Radiating out from these sources is the elites’ super-weapon of pure power: Global Capital.
This is possible because the Power Elite owns these institutions along with the money (i.e.capital) they contain.
The Power Elite are not just owners of capital, they are mega-owners.
Super-Wealth Literally Rules, and Makes Money More Powerful Than Votes
From this staggering wealth of ownership radiates the power of influence and control over masses of ordinary people, as well as the politicians those citizens elect to represent them.
In America, the power of money within the political lobbying system is nearly unlimited, thanks to key Supreme Court decisions that rank money invested in politics with freedom of speech.
As a result, the money donated to political campaigns from large corporations, banks and big investor groups and funds, far outstrips the money spent by ordinary citizens.
The results are not surprising.
Empirical research has determined beyond any doubt, that regular citizens, even with their millions of votes, have little, if any, influence on US politics when compared to the ultra-wealthy Power Elite.
One well-known study states: “Compared to economic elites, average voters have a low to nonexistent influence on public policies. ‘Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions, they have little or no independent influence on policy at all'”.
We Live Under Elite Control
This means that all of our major policies are basically under elite control. These include policies regarding taxation, immigration, healthcare, education, environmental policy (including climate change), business regulation, disaster preparedness, military spending, foreign policy and war policy, and all the others.
Compounding the situation is the inescapable fact that 95% of all our media is owned by the Power Elite. MSNBC and CNN are no different from Fox or ABC or CBS or any print or online media sources, in terms of being corporations owned by the Power Elite, who reap great profits from all of these, as well as controlling the information and messages they deliver to us en masse.
It is also highly problematic for the world that the power elite profit immensely from the fossil fuel industry, which is the key driving force behind climate change, an existential threat to the human race.
But the corporations that comprise the fossil fuel industry are such huge, institutionalized sources of elite income and power that elites are loathe to permit society to change away from them.
Just as ominously, one of the biggest money-makers for the Power Elite are the military industries and armed conflict in general, and all things associated.
Elites are fundamentally incentivized to promote war, and to push society to relentlessly increase already vast military spending, which drains away precious resources from the needs of the masses.
What Kind of People Are the Power Elite?
It would be ideal if the people who actually had the most power in our society were people of exceptional character, depth, insight and empathy. Unfortunately, aside from being ultra-wealthy and powerful, elites are a very human bunch, with all the foibles, weaknesses and faults of regular people.
Donald Trump has given us a peek into the world of the uber-rich, and shined a light on the character and values they hold.
It is not an encouraging spectacle.
This is not to say that Trump is exactly like all other members of the ultra-rich Power Elite. But that small group’s characteristics and tendencies have been explored by many fine analysts down through the years, and the findings are not inspiring of confidence.
Chris Hedges bluntly lays it out in his interview/essay, The Pathology Of The Rich. The philosophy of very wealthy people has been described as the “ideology of self-interest”. According to psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner, “the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.”
And these are the people who in most ways, rule our world!
“More Money, Less Empathy”, Among the Ultra-Rich
Researchers from the University of California came to the same conclusion.
In popular culture, the satirically-edged Sci Fi horror film, They Live, is a metaphorical take on the Power Elite’s dedication to the domination of society, as a separate ruling class, alien to (in the film’s case, literally) the rest of the servile and exploited, yet unaware population.
Brilliant Minds Have Been Hard at Work in Service of the Power Elite
Much deliberate effort, and impressive economic and ideological brainpower, has been employed in the elites’ hijacking of democratic institutions throughout the world, and their steady takeover of the American economy.
A very fine, short video (under 14 minutes) that features an interview by journalist Greg Wilpert, of Peter Phillips, the author of the book, “Giants: The Global Power Elite,” sums up the problem of the Power Elite, as they become increasingly independent of all national borders in today’s world.
Is this tiny, and now international class of super-wealthy elites ignoring humanity’s real, existential problems in their unceasing pursuit of more and more power and wealth, on top of their already incredible power and wealth?
Are they leading us to doom? Are they, in effect, society’s Doomsday Class?
It cannot be denied that the Power Elite are our active ruling class.
Literally, it is they who run our society, and world.
But are they running it, and us, into the ground?
D. Lockman is a retired English teacher and former part-time musician,
with a passion for politics that started before he was 10 years old.
He is honored to be informed by some of the leading progressive and
dissident voices to be found in independent media. He finds mainstream media to be insufficient at informing the active minds of
sincerely curious people in these noisy, tumultuous times.