Letters to the Editor

Power elite

February 21, 2007


To the editor:

I am fascinated by the term "development community," used frequently in the Journal-World and most recently in Chad Lawhorn's article about the candidate debate sponsored by Grassroots Action. This innocuous-sounding term seems to embrace developers, builders, real estate speculators and the like. By normal journalistic ethical standards, when using such a term, the Journal-World should always disclose the interests of its own parent company, which uses the megalomaniac moniker "The World Company" to indicate its apparent ambitions, including in real estate and "development."

I believe a better and no more biased term for this "community" would be the one coined by sociologist William Domhoff in his book, "Who Rules America Now?" Domhoff uses the term "power elite" to refer to the "growth coalitions" that dominate local governments with the same sense of ownership displayed by the "corporate community" at the national level. These groups do form a kind of "community," but their interests do not correspond with those of the community as a whole.

Rather, the power elite uses political power to enhance its private profits. That the local media are monopolized by those private interests should not only raise our concern about the health of our democracy, but should also encourage us to join groups like Grassroots Action to build a counter-hegemony to the power elite.

Stu Shafer,



JohnBrown 10 years ago

I'd like to add the following:

(from the book URBAN FORTUNES: THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF PLACE by JR Logan and HL Molotch):

ORGANIZATION OF THE GROWTH COALITION "The people who use their time and money to participate in local affairs are the ones who - in vast disproportion to their representation in the population - have the most to gain or lose in land-use decisions. Local business people are the major participants in urban politics, particularly business people in property investing, development, and real estate financing. Peterson (1981:132), who applauds growth boosterism, acknowledges that 'such policies are often promulgated through a highly centralized decision-making process involving prestigious businessmen and professionals. Conflict within the city tends to be minimal, decision-making processes tend to be closed.' Elected officials, says Stone (1984:292), find themselves confronted by ' business community that is well-organized, amply supplied with a number of deployable resources, and inclined to act on behalf of tangible and ambitious plans that are mutually beneficial to its own members.' Business people's continuous interaction with public officials (including supporting them through substantial campaign contributions) gives them systemic power. Once organized, they stay organized. They are "mobilized interests". Rentiers (those who collect rents) need local government in their daily money-making routines, especially when structural speculations are involved. They are assisted by lawyers, syndicators, and property brokers, who prosper as long as they can win decisions favoring their clients. Finally, there are monopolistic business enterprises (such as the local newspaper) whose futures are tied to the growth of the metropolis as a whole, although they are not directly involved in land use. When the local market is saturated with their product, they have few ways to increase profits, beyond expansion of their surrounding area. As in the proverbial Springdale, site of the classic Vidich and Bensman (1960:216) ethnography of a generation ago, there is a strong tendency in most cities for "the professionals (doctors, teachers, dentists, etc.), the industrial workers, the shack people and the lower middle class [to be] for all intents and purposes disenfranchised except in terms of temporary issues."

"Because so much of the growth mobilization effort involves government, local growth elites play a major role in electing local politicians, 'watch dogging' their activities, and scrutinizing resources, keeping peace on the home front, or using the city mayor as an 'ambassador to industry', local government is primarily concerned with increasing growth. Again, it is not the only function of local government, but it is the key one."

cowboy 10 years ago

This message brought to you by University of California , Berkeley , government payroll elite.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

The power elite/growth community are a perfect illustration of the old adage: If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Their entire fortunes have been built entirely on expansion. They'll do whatever they have to to make sure that that expansion continues, no matter what it costs the rest of the real community.

Stephen Roberts 10 years ago

This is another story about the "have and have nots."

Too me, Stu wants to redirtibute wealth. I disagree. Here is a joke I read from a friend. Enjoy.

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and was very much in favor of the redistribution of wealth. She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed.

Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his. One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school.

Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, "How is your friend Audrey doing?"

She replied, "Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.

Her wise father asked his daughter, "Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA."

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair! I have worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!"

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

Stephen Roberts 10 years ago

Cool- If you want to " take back our town." Get a bunch of people together and pool your resources and purchase property and redevelop it.

The idea of making more and more government intervention to take back our town doesn't make sense to me.

What is next rent control?

There are people who want the government to take action for them instead of them taking action themselves. The people who take action themselve can be rewarded financially, if things go well.

What is next, KU Endowmwnt buying rental property?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

"There are people who want the government to take action for them instead of them taking action themselves."

You are clearly referring to the power elite, who use their money and access to make sure that government does their bidding for them, at the exclusion of almost anything else.

Stephen Roberts 10 years ago

Wrong. I am talking people who keep on wanting and the local governement to enact ordinances to do their bidding.

I am talking about the PLC. Instead of getting together and buying property to do what they want. They would rather have Rundle, Boog, and Dave do ther bidding in exchange for their support.

The same could be said about developers but the main difference is developers go out and BUY the land instead of whinning about it and trying to have more and more and more and more restrictions and ordinances.

If Boog, Rundle and Schauner want "New Urbansim", why don't they start in their neighborhoods and their houses first. That is real leadership. Lead by example. Until they start this, I do not trust them.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

Nope, you're clearly talking about the power elite-- if you want something, go buy it-- including the city commission.

Stephen Roberts 10 years ago

BOZO- I will type this slowly so even you could understand. I am not just talking about the power elite. I am also talking about Melinda, Richard Heckler, Dennis "Boog" or I call him "BONG BOY" Highberger, Mike Rundle, David" Mad as H@ll" Schauner and the rest of the Have nots.

Maybe one day you will understand. I could also re-cut and paste my Father Daughter talk from above for you.

Jamesaust 10 years ago

"Power elite" - from those who never grasped that "capitalism" was no "ism" but just a description of what free people do when no tyrannt controls them.

Jamesaust 10 years ago

I should note also that the author isn't so much against any "elite" but just rather wants to be part of the "new new elite." Only a lover of bureaucracy could love such megalomania.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

One more question, James-- what -ism is it when the capitalists are the tyrannts?

Jamesaust 10 years ago

"So who are you voting for"?

Chesnut so far.

Nix to Schauner (I won't vote for him yet again) Nix to Davis Nix to Bush Nix to Fields

Unfortunately, I don't know if I can fill out the rest of my dancecard yet. As I've complained from the last filing day - 'these are our choices'?

cowboy 10 years ago

Chestnut is the only one with any focus and is willing to answer a question.

Schnauer - Absolutely not

boog , everything is fine , I'm ok youre ok - NOT

the rest are just wishy washy

Jamesaust 10 years ago

"what -ism is it when the capitalists are the tyrannts?"

Mercantilism. Oligopolism. Statism. Its difficult to be a "ism" and be directly opposite of a "non-ism". By definition, captialism requires decision-making freedom, so whatever you would have in a tyrannical system marked by a lack of decisionmaking it could not be termed capitalism. In reality, while you can have a totally non-capitalist society (a/k/a, North Korea), no society manages an undiminished capital society (although Hong Kong was once close) as in a free society, even the most freedom-loving will at some point decide to stop and enjoy the cake they've earned.

Your question is akin to asking: what do you call a bird without feather and forearmed wings? (Answer: a non-bird)

Jamesaust 10 years ago

I should add, I'll vote for Chesnut based less on any similarity in ideology than the fact that he represents raw competency - something extraordinarily lacking in many current Commissioners. Anybody can represent a constituency but not anyone has the computing power to make plans and see them implemented efficiently.

repaste 8 years, 10 months ago

Raw competency? Well spoken does not equal well informed. Few years and mr chestnut might be a great commish. Now he is a puppet.

jafs 8 years, 10 months ago

The "father-daughter" post is an interesting and entertaining, but rather flawed analogy.It assumes, for example, that one's financial success in this society is directly linked to one's hard work.This ignores other obvious factors - even in the school analogy, native intelligence would be another factor.Also, while all may (theoretically) be able to get A's, this is not true of wealth.And, it ignores obvious differences in background and culture that make a difference in our society.Bottom line - if we were in fact a meritocracy, it would be somewhat better than what we are now, but only if all were afforded the possibility of success based on hard work.Right now, we have unequal distribution of information and access to the market (two fundamental prerequisites for Adam Smith capitalism), control by huge multinational corporations (in defiance of ant-trust regulations designed to provide some semblance of market forces), and government subsidies and bail-outs of large corporations.All of this, and people are still getting all worked up about a little help for average and suffering individuals?!

1wetwilly 8 years, 10 months ago

Jafs,Well said. Too many of us are manipulated by and align with the shallow arguements, sound bites and cute anecdotes of both conservative and liberal figure-heads. However, it is the conservative positions that are the most incongruous and discrepent to reality.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.