Since 1976 Thomas R. Dye, Professor of Political Science at Florida State University,
has published a series of books examining who and what institutions actually
control and run America. As Thomas R. Dye points out, to understand who is making
the decisions that affect our lives, we also have to understand how societies
structure themselves in general. Why the few always tend to share more power
than the many and what this means in terms of both a society's evolution and
our daily lives. On The Zoh Show and 21st Century Radio, we often focus of the
role of the media in shaping our lives, but when Zoh interviewed Professor Dye
on October 24, 1996, they examined the other 11 institutions that exert just
as powerful a shaping influence, although somewhat more subtle: The Industrial,
Corporations, Utilities and Communications, Banking, Insurance Investment, Mass
Media, Law, Education Foundation, Civic and Cultural Organizations, Government,
and the Military. In her introduction to their interview, Zoh described Thomas
R. Dye as "one of America's most provocative educators I have yet to encounter,"
and his book, Who's Running America? The Clinton Years, published by Prentis
Hall Press in 1995, as "absolutely the best I've ever read on the issue
of power, control and authority."
In his book, Professor Dye addresses the nature of societies in general and
how they organize themselves. As he pointed out on The Zoh Show, "the argument
is not that America is any different than any other society, it's not that we're
any more elitist than other societies... basically all societies have to be
organized. All societies have leadership and whether it comes in a capitalist
society from essentially a business/financial/legal world or whether in a socialist
society, [or] from government bureaucrats and parties, chieftains... all societies
have elites, and the argument is that the best way to understand society is
really to understand who these people are."
In America this inherent elitism precludes the Lincolnesque vision of a government
"of the people, by the people and for the people." Instead Professor
Dye lists some 7,314 who are supposedly representing all 250 million Americans
and determining the dimensions that "America of the Elite" will take
on. He explains that they arrived at that figure by looking at the 100 largest
industrial corporations and 50 largest banks and finding these industrial corporations
controlled over two-thirds of the total industrial assets of the nation, and
the banks controlled approximately 75% of the banking assets of the nation.
Then they examined the top Wall Street investment firms, the big Wall Street
in Washington law firms, communications, utilities, the foundations and the
most prestigious private universities, and compared the people who are members
of their boards of directors, their presidents, their CEOs and so on. All these
names together totaled 7,314 names. "You could reasonably say," says
Professor Dye, "that these people control two-thirds of the industrial
assets, three-quarters of banking assets, half the assets of communications
and utilities and three-quarters of the assets in insurance and so on. 7,314:
scholars have argued for some time about the size of the nation's elite. We
think that's a pretty good beginning estimate of what it is. It turned out that
there were only 6,000 names in the 7,300 positions which means that there is
considerable overlap. That is to say some people had more than one position,
so we really came up with what we thought were about 6,000 people who were in
a position to govern virtually every sector of American society."
The concentration of economic power is a key factor in any civilization and
when one looks at the growth of the Top 100 Corporations, not just in the sense
of the economic market, but more importantly, in the policy making arena, one
can learn a lot about who's running America. Says Dye, "with an increasing
concentration of industrial assets in the top 100 corporations, we've also had
a much greater differential in salaries between workers and CEOs. In other words,
there's greater inequality in the country today than there has been in the past...
The pie is expanding, that's true, but in terms of shares of that pie, the folks
at the top are getting more, and the folks at the bottom are getting less."
Personal wealth is almost insignificant compared to corporate wealth, according
to Professor Dye, a fact of great significance when one considers only a small
number or corporations control about 75% of our nation's wealth. "Power
is really concentrated in the giant institutions," he said. He referred
to Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign in which he spent 60 or 70 million
dollars, making everyone aware and in awe of his close to a billion dollars
in assets. But the real power lies with the assets of Exxon or AT&T or General
Motors or any of the large corporations that have assets of tens and twenties
and thirties and fifties and some of the top banks that have hundreds of billions
of dollars of assets. In other words, the assets that are concentrated in the
largest banks and in the largest corporations really are far greater than the
assets of any particular individual, and those who want to exercise power "are
far better doing so... by leadership positions in top institutions. We only
pay the president of the United States $200,000 a year and yet basically the
President supervises a budget of 1.6 trillion. So individual wealth really doesn't
compare with institutional wealth."
Micromanaged from "Cradle to Grave"
Professor Dye has made these lists of who's in power for every administration
since 1976, and the quality of the data he supplies makes it easy to see the
continuation of these powerful forces from 1940 through today. "My argument,"
says Professor Dye, "that industrial wealth and banks and other centers
of financial power are influencing government comes essentially from a system
in which foundations [receive] large grants from wealthy corporations and in
turn fund various policy planning groups." Groups such as the Council on
Foreign Relations in New York, the Bookings Institution in Washington, the Heritage
Foundation in Washington, the American Enterprise Institute and other policy
planning groups, according to Professor Dye, really set the agenda for the congress
and the president and other governmental agencies. "In other words,"
says Dye, "these are the folks that operate sort of behind the governmental
reporting that we get. We get reports on bills introduced in congress and what
congress does in committee and on the floor and so on. But we don't get an awful
lot of reports in the news media on what the Council on Foreign Relations is
planning for us in terms of our international role. What are we doing in terms
of NATO expansion and so on, and that's all really been pretty well planned
out ahead by the Council on Foreign Relations before it gets to the news media
and before it gets in the President's speech."
Zoh reads Foreign Affairs, the publication of the CFR as a regular sort of punishment
to get a sense of where the administrations will be in four or five years, believing
as she does that they set the agenda years before it is manifested.
To compare the administrations of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Dye quotes a source
who referred to President Clinton as "A political robot whose been running
for office his whole life." Says Dye, "I would say the Clinton Administration
is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people in that the
people all become lawyers and lobbyists. The Clinton Administration was more
filled with lawyers and lobbyists than Reagan and Bush. By lawyers and lobbyists
I mean people that basically made their living from relations with the government,"
i.e., lawyers who are government officials or actually heads of lobbying organizations.
"Reagan and Bush had far more people from the corporate world, far more
people from business and finance, that's noticeably absent in the Clinton Administration.
Clinton's people really are not drawn from the corporate world. Another thing
about Clinton is it's probably the first administration that we really have
virtually no military experience represented in the cabinet. That's what's different
"What's the same about them is basically, of course, they're drawn from
the most prestigious people, the most prestigious educational institutions in
country. People that have had the best kinds of educations, the best careers.
There was a book some time ago called The Best and The Brightest which... talked
about recruitment of top people appointed to top cabinet offices that each administration
really has to dip into the top elite to fill its cabinet positions.
"Ronald Reagan himself, for example, had really started out pretty close
to the bottom in terms of being the son of a failed alcoholic shoe salesman
who traveled around the mid-west and Illinois, and he went to a tiny little
unknown school called Eureka College and so on. But his whole life was one of
upward mobility. George Bush in contrast was born in great wealth. His father,
Prescott Bush, was a senior partner in Brown, Harriman, a leading Wall Street
investment firm. He was a United States Senator from Connecticut, he chaired
the Yale Corporation which governed Yale University. Bill Clinton, on the other
hand came from the middle. If Ronald Reagan came from the bottom, and if Bush
came from the top, Clinton was in the middle. He likes to talk about the fact
that he was born to a single parent family. But his mother pretty soon married
an automobile dealer and he had a pretty middle class upbringing and he was
able to have his education at private, prestigious Georgetown University as
undergraduate and of course to go on to Yale Law School. He's come up in the
world but he didn't start at the bottom, the way he sometimes implies."
How does the assumed role of the media function in terms of the control by "the
few over the many"?
"My argument is that the media sets the agenda for what people will be
talking about. It sets the agenda for what will be decided. There is an argument
that he who sets the agenda is even more powerful than he who makes the decision...
Particularly television -- because we have enough polling and opinion information
to know that most people get their news from television and most people actually
trust television more than they trust newspapers, magazines, radio and other
media. So, with that being the major source of news and the most trusted news,
the people that decide what is going to be seen on the evening news, what is
going to be seen by 10-15 million people on ABC News, NBC News and CBS News,
what 10-15 million people are going to hear from Dan Rather, Peter Jennings,
and Tom Brokaw -- and maybe five or six million look at CNN -- that decision
on what to put on as the news becomes very vital. If they want to talk about
the economy or how well it's doing and so on, that kind of sets the agenda.
And then people start saying well, things are pretty good, maybe we'll vote
for the incumbent Bill Clinton... The crime rate has gone down a little bit
in the last couple of years; they could report that as progress and that would
help Bill Clinton, or they could report the fact that there are more drug seizures
now than ever before, more drugs coming into the country, the price of drugs
is lower. If they wanted to make that the issue then it would probably help
Bob Dole. So, in other words, they can choose what people will be talking about.
They set the agenda for decision-making and it's in relatively few hands....
It's a relatively small number of people who make the decisions about what we
will be thinking and talking about."
Another important factor Professor Dye points out is that 70% of all television
news stories are pre-planned, so there is intention, there is forethought, there
is a great deal of consideration about - not necessarily what's good for our
republic, but what will sell and what supports the advertisers who pay their
salaries. It's a wide-spread misconception that the news is just what happened
today. Says Dye "The news has to be well thought out ahead of time. You
can't just an hour or two before television time, put together a program as
slick as you get on the nightly news whether it's Brokaw, or Rather, or Jennings.
They are handling many, many stories and they have stories all lined up ahead
of time. True, if something breaks, then they'll have to pull one story and
stick in the most recent breaking news, but basically they've been working on
the line-up of news for weeks ahead of time and developing stories and getting
good visuals and deciding what it is that they want to designate as the problems
of America." Sometimes they even designate the crises they want to point
out, and they become what people talk about, especially after the media then
turns around and puts a microphone in front of the president, or senate, or
house members and ask them to comment. Even if it wasn't on the agenda before,
it gets on the agenda then, because politicians have to respond to what the
major news reporters ask them.
The Fourth Estate, of course, is intrinsically linked to the other movers and
shakers outlined in Professor Dye's books, the university structure and the
foundations, etc., most obviously by the spokespersons invited time and again
to share opinions on the news. But these large institutions, like the Ford Foundation,
or the Carnegie Foundation, are multi-billion dollar institutions and sit quietly
behind the scenes shaping policy, education, and global events beyond the scope
or even awareness of the common people. In Thomas Dye's work, he has tried to
understand not only how these networks function and their interrelationships,
but how they work in tandem with the major universities, particularly ones that
do policy research. He watches closely the Council on Foreign Relations and
their major publication, Foreign Affairs, and who they invite as speakers at
their New York meetings and what is being said there. He believes in this way,
much can be learned about the future of foreign policy, international trade
and international economic development.
He then goes on to compare names on these various boards of directors, and for
example on page 143 under Civic Establishment, from the Brookings Institute
membership at the board level, you have a guy like Lewis Cavat and then you
look to see what else did he do? He's a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation,
a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he's a trustee of MIT, he was
chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Another example, Vernon Jordan,
former President of The National Urban League, Director of American Express,
Banker Trust, Union Carbide, Xerox, and Corning Glass. Then there's Donald McHenry,
former U.N. Ambassador, director of AT&T, and so on in a sort of infrastructure
Interlocking - a Major Source of Influence
"It's not just money," says Professor Dye, "it's not just people
giving money to foundations, but as you reminded me, it's interlocking the fact
that these folks will have key positions in the corporate world and the financial
world and also key positions in university trusteeships and foundation trusteeships
and so on... We know that, for example, over half of the Clinton Administration
has degrees at either Yale, Harvard, or Stanford... and they also tend to be
members of the same clubs." Though most people may not call it an establishment,
these art foundations actually are part of a national force outside government.
The big "C" word -- Conspiracy
As Zoh knows all too well, the media's way of marginalizing anyone who suggests
that there is some sort of elitist team that runs the show, is to label them
as a paranoid conspiratorialist. "I kind of dodge that question,"
says Dye when asked how he deals with it, "and I dodge the question in
a sense because the word "conspiracy" is such a pejorative, it's such
a negative, and also it involves the notion that some people in small groups
sit around planning evil. In my view it's probably a larger group than any one
that could sit around at one table. We're really talking about five or six thousand
people with maybe an inner core of interlockers of several hundred people that
occupy multiple positions. My view is that they probably don't meet on late
nights in small smoke-filled rooms and plan evil, but rather that they DO know
each other, they DO join the same clubs, they DO sit on the same corporate boards,
the same banking boards. They sit on the university's private prestigious university
trusteeships and they DO communicate. I'm hesitant to use the word "conspiracy"
for these reasons."
Homogeneous groupings and the lack of access to decision making are the keys
to controlling power in this country, although Professor Dye is quick to point
out that "we do have social mobility in this country; this is not a closed
elite. It's not an elite that necessarily doesn't take in new members from time
to time. Indeed if it didn't, that would probably lead to its ostracism and
its eventual overthrow. In other words, wise, enlightened elites have the means
of bringing in young new people.
"...All governments are by the few," rather than by the people, continues
Dye. "There is no way to have government by the people. All governments
are by the few. We are fortunate that in a democracy we can select which few
we want to have governance, in a sense.... You're probably going to get the
same kinds of people -- they'll be different people, but they'll have the same
backgrounds and the same schools and the same universities and the same social
backgrounds, regardless of whether Bob Dole or Bill Clinton is elected."
If you can't find Who's Running America? in your local bookstore, ask them to
order it from Prentice Hall in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.