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Elite fragmentation and the decline of the United States

The United States in Decline

ISBN: 978-1-78350-829-7, eISBN: 978-1-78350-830-3

Publication date: 24 June 2014


We argue that the United States has experienced a decline of economic, political, and military power since the 1970s, and that this decline can be attributed in part to the fragmentation of the American corporate elite. In the mid-twentieth century, this elite – constrained by a highly legitimate state, a relatively powerful labor movement, and an active financial community – adopted a moderate and pragmatic strategy for dealing with the political issues of the day. The “enlightened self-interest” of corporate leaders contributed to a strong economy with a relatively low level of inequality and an expanding middle class. This arrangement broke down in the 1970s, however, as increasing foreign competition and two energy crises led to spiraling inflation and lower profits. In response, the corporate elite waged an aggressive (and ultimately successful) assault on government regulation and organized labor. This success had the paradoxical effect of undermining the elite’s own sources of cohesion, however. Having won the war against government and labor, the group no longer needed to be organized. The marginalization of the commercial banks and the acquisition wave of the 1980s exacerbated the fragmentation of the corporate elite. No longer able to act collectively by the 1990s, the corporate elite was now incapable of addressing issues of business and societal-wide concern. Although increasingly able to gain individual favors from the state, the elite’s collective weakness has contributed to the political gridlock and social decay that plague American society in the twenty-first century.




Research for this chapter was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, grant SES-0922915.


Mizruchi, M.S. and Hyman, M. (2014), "Elite fragmentation and the decline of the United States", The United States in Decline (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 26), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 147-194.



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