Who Rules America?
The Class-Domination Theory of Power
by G. William Domhoff
NOTE: WhoRulesAmerica.net is largely based on my book, Who Rules America?, first published in 1967 and now in its 6th edition. This on-line document is presented as a summary of some of the main ideas in that book.
Who has predominant power in the United States? The short answer, from 1776 to the present, is: Those who have the money have the power. George Washington was one of the biggest landowners of his day; presidents in the late 19th century were close to the railroad interests; for the Bush family, it was oil and other natural resources, agribusiness, and finance. But to be more exact, those who own income-producing property – corporations, real estate, and agribusinesses – set the rules within which policy battles are waged.
While this may seem simple and/or obvious, the reasons behind it are complex. They involve an understanding of social classes, the role of experts, the two-party system, and the history of the country, especially Southern slavery. In terms of the big world-historical picture, and the Four Networks theory of power advocated on this site, money rules in America because there are no rival networks that grew up over a long and complex history:
No big church, as in many countries in Europe
No big government, as it took to survive as a nation-state in Europe
No big military until after 1940 (which is not very long ago) to threaten to take over the government
So, the only power network of any consequence in the history of the United States has been the economic one, which under capitalism generates a business-owning class that hires workers and a working class, along with small businesses and skilled artisans who are self-employed, and a relatively small number of independent professionals like physicians. In this context, the key reason why gold can rule, i.e., why the business owners who hire workers can rule, is that the people who work in the factories and fields were divided from the outset into free and slave, white and black, and later into numerous immigrant ethnic groups as well, making it difficult for workers as a whole to unite politically to battle for higher wages and better social benefits. This important point is elaborated on toward the end of this document in a section entitled “The Weaknesses of the Working Class.”