Economy

The American 1%: Social Class Divide on Crack

Who Rules the United States?

The United States of America is supposed to be, by design, a representative democracy, but who really runs the United States? Two perspectives that hypothesize on who runs the United States is the functionalist and conflict perspectives.

 

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WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 12: U.S. President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy. (Photo by Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images)

Crucial to this question, is a sound understanding of the fundamental reasoning that make up both perspectives; the demand and supply of authority. Also key, is an understanding of citizenship, democracy, and capitalism. Lastly, it is imperative to have a strong grasp on the U.S. Political Infrastructure, and how all these factors are waged into the arguments of the functionalist and conflict perspectives. The first step in this inquisition is to come to an agreed definition of authority, which is the common goal of any government; the monopoly over power and the use of violence.

 

Authority and You!

Authority, is the extension of power by one group, or government, over the larger population of people within a defined territory. Functionalists view states, or governments, as having arisen from the necessity of social groups, to protect the masses of people from anarchy, which is unrestrained disorder and crime. Conflict theorists would agree that an unrestrained government is detrimental, but they differ in that they believe the current government to be functioning in a way that doesn’t contribute to the welfare and longevity of its citizens. There are three types of authority that societies recognize: traditional authority, rational-legal authority, and charismatic authority. Traditional authority is the type of authority that is extended over a social group by way of culture and customs. Rational-legal authority is a type of authority that is recognized by the people as legitimate due to its establishment in the laws of the land. Charismatic authority is the type of power offered to individuals based on their outstanding traits, which prompt others to follow them. This brings us to the question of the natural forces that bring people within a defined territory together; citizenship.

Citizenship: Consented Violence

Citizenship is the concept that birth (residence or naturalization), is the basis upon which individuals are afforded basic rights. This is one of the great benefits of this country; this is the idolized land of opportunity. The place where anyone can become Steve Jobs. The part of the story they leave out is that during that struggle for opportunity, you will face unfathomable obstacles, and if you are a woman or a person of color, you will encounter far more pressing odds on your pursuit to the American dream. Poverty and social class divisions do exist in this country, which brings us to the concept of universal citizenship, which addresses discrimination with its emphasis on everyone having the same basic rights. Now, let’s focus in on the guiding principles of this country. Before we dive more into the country’s political infrastructure, let’s get an understanding of capitalism, and how it plays a role in our country’s social makeup.

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Capitalism: The American Nightmare

Capitalism, is the concept around which the private ownership of the means of production, and the desire and pursuit of profit controls the supply and demand of economic markets. There are two types of capitalism that currently exist in societies: lassiez-faire capitalism, and welfare capitalism. Laissez-faire capitalism is unrestrained by government, and is commonly called hands-off capitalism. Welfare capitalism is a form of capitalism where government encourages the private ownership of land, but regulates capitalism to ensure the welfare of the masses of the nation’s population. Conflict theorists coined the name power elite, to refer to the 1% of Americans, made up of the super-rich, heads of military, top legislators, but most importantly, the heads of this country’s top corporations. They say that it is this small group of individuals who make the decisions that control the major functioning of the United States of America. This brings us to how both the functionalists and conflict perspectives view capitalism, as it relates to the U.S. political infrastructure.

The U.S. Political Infrastructure

The infrastructure of the United States political system is bipartisan, with several smaller roadways that we will collectively refer to as third parties. Minus the presence of these almost non-existent third parties, the U.S. political system is dominated by democrats and republicans. Democrats are associated publicly with advocating for the welfare of the masses of the population. Republicans are associated publicly with advocating for the interest of the wealthy. The supposed common denominator is that both parties adopt the philosophy of free education, a strong military, and the freedom of religion, speech, and assembly of the American people. Functionalists view this system of representative democracy, fused with the safe guard of this system’s checks and balances system, as sufficient and effective, as it grew directly from the need of the people to have a government. They also see capitalism as necessary, as both parties of this country’s bipartisan arrangement view capitalism as essential to the welfare of our economy. Conflict theorist, on the reverse, sees the influence of capitalism on policy, as an illegitimate form of control (coercion) of the people by corporations; the power elite, or ruling class. This power elite is comprised of the super-rich 1% of Americans, who head the country’s top corporations, are top ranking military officials, and are our country’s most influential elected officials. The conflict perspective also provides an analysis on the hierarchy of the power elite group. The three groups are not equal in power, but because all three segments of the group view capitalism as crucial to American economy, corporations wield more power in this group makeup.

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In Context: Functionalist and Conflict Perspectives

There are two perspectives on who rules the United States of America; the functionalist and conflict perspectives. Authority is the extension of power over the people, fused with the exclusive monopoly on the use of violence. Key to answering this question, is the gaining of understanding around both the functionalist and conflict theories. Also important, is the understanding of authority, capitalism, and democracy. Lastly, you must have a sound understanding of capitalism, and how it is perceived to fit into the scheme of the United Stets political infrastructure. No one perspective covers each point that I believe is important and accurate, and no one party can represent all the ideals of every constituent, but understanding who makes the decisions in this country is key to understanding how to change the decisions that are being made to cause latent dysfunctions in our economy. Signing off, but never offline!

Written by: Eugene Stanley

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