This paper summarizes this writer's opinion on which of two theories - pluralism or elitism - control wealth and power in America. The paper begins with a brief definition of what can be understood by wealth and power and a description as to who controls these two aspects of contemporary American life. The characteristics described are then analyzed to determine whether these reflect pluralism or elitism. The conclusion builds on these discussions to determine whether Madison's hope that the checks and balances in the Constitution and the existence of opposing factions are working sufficiently so the general good is not being sacrificed for the good of powerful elite and special interests.In the interest of full disclosure, the writer is a private school teacher with minimal actual participation in political activities, and whose only involvement is support for "Rock the Vote" that encourages youth participation in the democratic process."Wealth" is understood to mean the nation's economic resources: corporations, the financial system, etc. A recent Luxury Institute (2006) study showed that the richest 10 percent in America, with a minimum income of $831,600 and an average net worth of $3.1 million, control 70 percent of the wealth "Power" is the ability to compel another to do something that one would otherwise not do (Dahl, 1957). A perennial challenge of any democratic nation is how power can be balanced among and within the social structures and special interests of government, business, the people, and the media.
Political and social scientists describe democracy as a form of government organized according to four key principles: popular sovereignty (the ultimate power to make political decisions is vested in all rather than in only some of the people), political equality (one person, one vote), popular consultation (public officials should put into practice what the people want), and majority rule (when people disagree on an issue, the government should act according to the wishes of the majority rather than the minority) (Ranney, 2001, 96-98).
Democracy is characterized by a constant and chaotic balancing of power from different interest groups. There is no better alternative without trampling on the rights of portions of the population.
What the practice of democracy allows is the strengthening of institutions that give people the power to determine how the nation is governed and moves towards social and economic progress: elections, representation, a constant effort to increase democratic participation, and many other aspects of running a free society.
Even in America, unanimous agreement is never achieved on a long-term basis as hundreds of millions of free minds express their changing desires, hoping to contribute to the good of the nation. Every person in America acts for the good of the whole. Those who do not (like terrorists and murderers) are sent to prison.
America also has to contend with an important lesson from history that brings into the balance of power the factor of wealth.
Remember that America was established as a refuge for Europeans fleeing from political, economic, and religious persecution. They wanted a nation where everyone had the power to exercise political, economic, and religious freedoms.
This led America to become a land of great economic freedom, opportunity, and wealth.
Free capitalism thrived because the founders of this nation made economic freedom - the power to generate, earn, keep, invest, and enjoy wealth - a cornerstone of society; and by erecting social structures (political institutions, churches, corporations, etc.) that allow the balancing of power to take place freely, America's founders (of which Madison is one) were confident that over the course of history, different social groups would check and balance each other so that power and wealth are redistributed for the good of the whole.
It is in this context of the power balancing act where the question comes in: is wealth and power in America controlled by