In 1956 sociologist C. Wright Mills published a book titled The Power Elite. In it, he argued that our democracy was corrupt because the same people exercised power in business, the military, and politics. This small group, with so many important roles and connections, had an influence on our society that was far out-of-proportion with their numbers. This, he concluded, was a dire situation.
Fast forward to 2012 and Lambert Strether posted a series of Venn diagrams at Naked Capitalism. Strether writes:
[This] nifty visualization… shows how many, many people, through the operations of Washington’s revolving door, have held high-level positions both in the Federal government and in major corporations. To take but one example, the set of all Treasury Secretaries includes Hank Paulson and Bob Rubin, which overlaps with the set of all Goldman Sachs COOs. The overlapping is pervasive. Political scientists and the rest of us have names for such cozy arrangements — oligarchy, corporatism, fascism, “crony capitalism” — but one name that doesn’t apply is democracy.
UPDATE: I’ve included a criticism of the methodology after the diagrams; the overlap portrayed here is almost exclusively among Democratic politicians and the diagrams were explicitly intended to point out connections among progressives.
See for yourself:
On the methods for putting together these diagrams, Strether writes about the person who’s behind the diagrams:
Herman’s honest: Her goal is to “expose progressive corporatism,” and — assuming for the sake of the argument that D[emocrat]s are progressive, and that “progressives” are progressive — her chart does exactly that, and very effectively, too.
But what her data does not do is expose corporatism as such; there are very, very few Rs listed; it strains credulity that Hank Paulson was the only high-level GS operative in the Bush administration, for example, and if GS isn’t the R[epublican]s’ favorite bank, there’s surely another.
Hence, Herman’s chart, if divorced from context, might lead somebody — say, a child of six — to conclude that the only corporatists in Washington DC are D[emocrat]s.
Thanks to Carolyn Taylor for pointing out the methods bias.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.