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The Capitalist Power Pyramid

  (c) By William (Bill) Dascavich,
   March, 2000

First posted at: The Voices of Chinese

In my view, the structure of a capitalist society may be compared to a five layered pyramid. The peak or top layer of this pyramid is where the corporate elite or ruling class are to be found. It is at this level that all of the major decisions are made. This sector is a relatively small, closely knit group which functions according to certain unwritten rules. They belong to exclusive clubs where no questions are asked about the origin of their wealth. That's not important. What counts is how much wealth (and power) they control. They identify themselves with status symbols such a private jets, ocean-going yachts, private islands, suburban estates, resort mansions, the name of their private doctor, their wives' favorite shops and the pedigrees of their dogs.

Most of the corporate elite come by their fortune through inheritance. Newcomers who acquire fortunes on their own are not readily accepted into the ruling circle because of their tendency to be lavish in the display of their new-found wealth. This behavior is frowned upon by the ruling class, most of whom prefer to live in seclusion, surrounded by an army of accountants, brokers, lawyers and security guards.

They may own financial institutions, factories, mines, or plantations, but they rarely operate lathes, computers, drag-lines or tractors. They prefer, instead, to expend their energies on finer things such as polo, golf, surfing and safaris. They pass on their traditions from generation to generation by sending their children to exclusive private schools where they are insulated from being contaminated with the culture of commoners. These schools ensure entry into prestigious universities and lead to convenient marriages within the elite families. Children are groomed to develop the luxurious tastes of elite society from an early age. (One must choose one's parents very carefully to fit into this level!)

The corporate elite maintain a constant vigil to protect their "freedom." They have close ties with the upper echelons of the military and influence events related to national security, fiscal policy, trade and foreign affairs. These are the important decisions. Lesser decisions may be left to government. Aside from relying on the military, the elite also exert their power through their control over the next layer in the power pyramid: the mass media.

The prime function of the capitalist mass media is to perpetuate capitalism. This is achieved through the manipulation of information as well as disinformation. Thus, instead of dwelling on and exposing the many antagonisms and contradictions in capitalist society, the capitalist media takes great pains to report on and invent problems in socialist societies. This strategy ensures that people who are homeless, jobless, or destitute feel that they are, nevertheless, fortunate to be living in a capitalist society. People thus convinced are not likely to strive for change or consider socialism as an alternative. This, of course, suits the corporate elite just fine.

Another tactic employed by the corporate controlled mass media is that of pitting one group in society against another, thereby keeping society effectively fragmented and powerless. Thus we have one region blaming another; we have one race or religion blaming another; we have farmers blaming workers and visa versa; and so on. Meanwhile, the elite go laughing all the way to the bank with their profits!

It needs to be understood that the "mass media" consists of much more than TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Every source of information that influences our attitudes and behavior must be considered part of the mass media. It includes movies, theater, books, the educational system, the various service clubs and religious organizations which people belong to, private and public publications and so on. All serve to mold our attitudes and beliefs.

Moving down to the center layer of the pyramid, we have government. Government is charged with the responsibility of making the minor decisions after the major decisions have been made by the corporate elite. Government is comprised of elected representative on the one hand and senior and junior civil servants on the other. Elected representatives serve to create the illusion of democratic control, and they also function as targets for public wrath. The real power and continuity lies with the senior civil servants. Effectively influenced by the corporate elite, the senior civil servants advise elected government representatives as to what they should or should not do.

Governments are permitted to enact any laws they like, just so long as these laws do not interfere with the basic capitalist power structure. Any legislative proposals aimed at putting an end to vast disparities in incomes, for example, are dealt with by the corporate elite through intense lobbying and threats to withdraw financial support at election time. Meanwhile the media is busy labeling such attempts as "socialistic," "communistic" or "evil". The party system of government makes it possible for unhappy voters to believe that they have an alternative. In reality, however, a change in governing parties has little, if any, effect on the entrenched senior civil service. Any changes made are usually largely cosmetic.

Going down to the next level on the pyramid, we find management. After the major and minor decisions have been made, it is necessary to ensure that they are put into practice at the community level. This becomes the function of management. Local management can be easily identified. They are the bankers, the police, the magistrates, the clergy, the plant manager, agricultural representatives, school superintendents, etc. Members of this group carry a considerable amount of influence and power within the community. To various degrees they order or manage the lives of the majority of people in accordance with the rules set by the upper levels.

At the base of the capitalist pyramid are the wage earners, the working farmers, the unemployed, the dispossessed, the handicapped and the retired poor. It is at this bottom level that virtually all of the wealth in society is created through the extraction and harvest of natural resources, their processing into finished goods, and the service industries. Without this base the pyramid would simply collapse. It is here that the vast majority of people in a capitalist society function. Many believe they live under a "democratic" system, despite the reality that they are ruled by a minority.

Posted with author's permission.


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Last revised: May 31, 2004