Power, Wealth, and Policymaking
Organized power exists--always and everywhere, in societies large and small, primitive and modern--because it performs the necessary function of establishing and maintaining the version of order by which a given society in a given time and place lives.
-- ROBERT LYND
POLICYMAKING IN AMERICA, as in all nations, takes place within society's structure of power and wealth. And power and wealth in America are concentrated in large institutions--industrial corporations, banks, insurance companies, investment firms, media conglomerates, prestigious law firms, and heavily endowed foundations. The institutional organization of society largely determines what issues will be addressed by government and what issues will be systematically organized out of the political system.
Policymakers, like all of us, are affected by the distribution of wealth and income in society, by the structure of institutional power, and by the stratification of social position. Government decision makers, from the president and White House staff and members of Congress and the judiciary, to bureaucrats, administrators, and public employees, all function within the larger stratified society. Like everyone else, they seek to maintain and enhance their own power, wealth, status, and lifestyle.
The institutional structure of society has even more far-reaching effects on policymaking, in its ability to determine what issues will be decided and what issues will never become issues at all. Societal conditions that are never identified as "problems" never become "news," never become "issues," and so do not come to government to resolve. This "non-decision making" occurs when the institutional structure of power and wealth limits the scope of public controversies, even when there may be serious latent problems in society.
Many of the most important determinants of "who gets what" in America lie outside the recognized scope of government, that is, they are considered private rather than public matters. The decisions of industrial corporations to raise or lower prices or hire or fire workers, of banks to raise or lower interest