What is the pyramid of power

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James F. Caldwell PowerDemocracy.org

Every complex social structure in human society is hierarchical, stratified into layers, and forms a pyramid. The distribution of executive power within the pyramid determines whether the structure is democratic or non-democratic. The American heritage Dictionary defines democracy as:

  1. Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.

  2. A political of social unit that has such a government.

  3. the common people, considered as the primary source of political power.

  4. Majority rule.

  5. The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

It is clear from the above definition that in a democracy the foundation of executive power, decision-making power, resides in the people, the demos. Managerial functions at the to of the pyramid are in the service of the demos. In other words, in democracies, the function of government is to channel the will of the demos to the top of the pyramid, either directly or indirectly through elected representatives and then to transform that raw democratic will into public policy codified into enforceable law.

The United States: A Pyramid Of Power With A Disjunction From Its Base

History confirms that the American Revolution was led by wealthy white male colonists for the purpose of overthrowing the rule of wealthy white male Englishmen. Jeffersonian idealism, notwithstanding, the principle business of the revolution was business. The founders did not abolish slavery, guarantee the vote to white men without property, much less to women, nor did they renounce the ethnic cleansing of the Indians. Most emphatically, those fathers of the revolution, who later became the leading framers of the constitution, were determines not to wrest control of the colonies from the British only to let it fall into the hands of the common people! Measures were taken to prevent that from happening. In the article below, Howard Zinn provides the evidence that the American Revolution definitely was not a social revolution.

In a separate article, Howard Zinn, once again explains tht the framers of the constitution were careful to include several provisions to protect their financial interests. It was these provisions that made possible the innumerable anti-democratic actions of Congress that have left a dark stain on the history of the United States and continue to bedevil proponents of democratic government to this very day.
Anyone who reads the United States Constitution will quickly realize that while it pays particular attention to protecting the commercial interests of the wealthy, that when it comes to guaranteeing that the government will be under the control of the common people, the demos, the Constitution maintains a conspicuous and deafening silence. This can hardly have been an oversight. Were such guarantees in place, much of the activity of government today would be ruled unconstitutional. Keeping in mind that the term “democracy” means literally “rule by the people” we can see that our enduring problems with accountability of government to the people result from the deliberate intention of the framers of the Constitution to maintain a monopoly of executive power for the top levels of the American pyramid of power. By design, the political power of the demos is limited to voting: approving or disapproving such matters as those who wield executive, agenda setting, power at the upper levels of the pyramid see fit to entrust to the voters. The most important decisions of government are not discussed in election campaigns because it is not the demos, but those wealthy financial interests who retain effective control of the upper levels of the pyramid of power who continue to make those decisions, just as they have from the beginning. This effective control manifests itself in the form of dominant control of both major political parties, in determining what issues are to be considered for public debate, and in policies favoring financially powerful special interests enacted into law by government at all levels. The demos are left to vote on issues that do not threaten the status quo distribution of political and economic power within the pyramid of power, such as: abortion, gun control, school vouchers and school prayer, and the like. Because there are in political campaigns so few substantive issues to discuss, journalists who cover high-profile campaigns frequently resort t covering such uninformative issues as the strategy of the campaign, how tired or rested a candidate looks, how much money they have raised compared to their competition, and how well a given candidate is doing in the latest polls. Journalists who know what is good for their careers avoid raising issues that threaten the status quo.

The American political system is designed to make it extremely difficult for the demos to launch political initiatives for issues that are of genuine concern to them. Consequently, problems that express a conflict of interest between the demos and a financially powerful special interest are problems that are not resolved in favor of the demos. These problems tend to fester rather indefinitely rather than receive the immediate and focused attention they would if America were a real democracy. The idea that the demos should not determine their own political agenda is expressed in one key phrase in the Declaration Of Independence; “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”[my emphasis]. The implication is that government should actively govern and the people should be limited to the passive role of granting or withholding “consent.” From this analysis, it is clear that the upper levels of the pyramid of power in the United States are separate in function from the base comprising the demos, the common people. Also, the upper levels maintain a monopoly over virtually all executive functions of government. By implication, any proposed remedy for the ills of American democracy that does not directly address the “dis-empowerment” of the demos and the disjuncture of the top of the pyramid of power from the base is a remedy that cannot serve the interests of real democracy. It is only by empowering the demos that real democracy is possible. Indeed, a demos exercising executive authority by enacting the will of the people into law is the essential defining condition of democracy itself.

There remains one further question to answer at this point, namely, what proportion of the population actually maintains effective control of government. In other words, if we consider the pyramid of power as comprising the entire population of the United States, what percentage of the population is able to manipulate the machinery of government in the service of its own political and economic interests? The best way of answering that question is to look at who wins and who loses where money is concerned. In that regard, the government shows time and again it disproportionately favors those Americans who, in terms of wealth, comprise approximately the top five percent with the largest winners comprising less than one percent.
In conclusion, if the current system of government in the United States is not a democracy, as clearly it is not, then what form of government is it? We have a pyramid of power. If we look at the distribution of wealth, we find a fraction of a percent holding enormous economic power. The pyramid of power also includes the government and the structure of government is similar to the economic component of the pyramid of power. A very small percentage of the population at the top runs the government and the rest of the population is excluded from government except for voting. We also notice that the major share holders of large corporations are the same people as those who are in the top few percentage points of the population in the distribution of income. These wealthy people and the largest of the corporations also share on additional characteristic, namely, that candidates running for office must get the majority of their money from them, either directly or indirectly. So no one but a fool will be surprised to learn that large corporations get tax breaks and subsidies from government and that the profits from these tax breaks and subsidies flow into the hands of those wealthy people who own the corporations. These are also the same people who are the creditors to the government for public debt. So when these people get tax breaks that run up deficits, the government is taking giving money to a small percentage of the population so that the common people can go into debt to them and pay the debt back with interest. Taxpayer money is funneled into corporations who give profits to the owners, but not only taxpayer money, but money that the government borrows from the same beneficiaries of corporate subsidies. It is not hard to see who runs the government. When the boundaries between corporate power and state power are blurred, so that corporations control the state, that form of government, is defined by Benito Mussolini as fascism. That is the essential feature of fascism. It has existed in different forms, as in Germany when it became mixed with anti-Semitism and Aryan racism to form Nazism. But the essential feature is the merging of state and corporate power. What is called democracy in America is simply a form of fascism where fascist elections are held and some level of dissent is tolerated. Dissent is tolerated because it is irrelevant and ineffective. When it becomes organized into a force capable of challenging the power of the electoral fascist state, it is attacked, vilified, and its proponents are persecuted by the apparatus of the state. American history is replete with examples that could be found with any Internet search engine. The essential first step for establishing democracy in America is for people take upon themselves as a matter of duty to the American people and the people of the world the responsibility for disseminating these ideas in conversations with people they encounter. There is no more effective way to counter the effects of corporate and state propaganda than for private citizens to commit to each other that they will disseminate the truth about the pyramid of power.
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