Wright Mills and the Power Elite
Who makes up the U.S. power elite? According to the sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959). the power is made up of leaders at the top of business, the executive branch
of the federal government, and the military. Of these three. Mills speculated that ·the "corporate rich" (the highest-paid officers of the biggest corporations) were the most powerful because of their unique ability to parlay the vast economic resources at their disposal into political power (see "Sociology Works!"). At the middle level of the pyramid. Mills placed the legislative branch of government, special interest groups. and local opinion leaders. The bottom (and widest layer) of the pyramid is occupied by the unorganized masses.
who are relatively powerless ~d are vulnerable to economic and political exploitation. Mills emphasized that individuals'who make up the power elite have similar class backgrounds and interests; many of them also interact on a regular basis. In addition. many- frequently shift back and forth among the business. government. and military sectors. For example. it is not unusual for torpor ate executives to assume positions in a president's cabinet and then return to the business world. Similarly. a "revolving door" exists between the military and the executive branch, as well as between the military and corporations. Members of the power elite are able to influence many important decisions. including federal spending.