POLITICS & GOVERNMENT: THE ESSENTIALS
What are political resources? What is the relationship between political resources and political power? Why are all modern political societies characterized by political inequality? What is the relationship between political resources and economic resources? What is political money? What is its importance?
1. Political Resources--The Sources and Bases of Political Power:
Political power, the capacity to affect significantly the political behavior of others and ulti- mately to shape and control important decisions on public policy adopted and implemented by the government, is based on control of political resources. A political actor--whether an individual person, a family, an interest group or its leadership elite, the leaders and sponsors of a political action committee, the leaders of a political party or one of its fac- tions, a particular governmental institution, office or agency, or the entire government-- possesses and exercises political power because of its control of certain things that are highly valued by large numbers of people within the society. Control of such values by a political actor places it in a position to shape and control the bahavior of other political actors by offering them an allocation of these values or by threatening to withhold from the political actors the things which they value.
The values are political resources. They are the means by which one actor can influence, condition, modify, shape, and control the political behavior of others, including one or more aspects of authoritative decisionmaking and action by the government.
Political resources, in short, are the sources and bases of political power.
Political resources include (1) votes and other forms of political support, (2) money, prop- erty, and other material possessions, (3) information, knowledge, and skills, (4) jobs, business contracts, business and professional licenses, permission to extract minerals, timber, and other raw materials from government-owned land, and other means of making possible or facilitating one's making a living or building his fortune, (5) tax credits or reductions targeted to benefit particular groups and businesses firms or the economy as a whole, (6) regulation or deregulation of particular sectors of the economy, (7) economic security resulting from a prosperous and growing national economy and/or from well- funded social-insurance and social-welfare programs, (8) safety from illegitimate physical force and violence and from illegal or arbitrary deprivation of one's life, liberty, or property, (9) reputation and standing in the community, (10) public policies supportive of one's religious, moral, civic, or ideological principles and beliefs, and (11) a great variety of other values.
Control of political resources gives an actor a political power base. The political actor is able to grant or withhold things that are highly valued in the society. The actor can allocate benefits and advantages to those who cooperate and behave politically in the desired manner and can allocate deprivations and disadvantages to those who do not. The actor therefore has the ability to impact significantly on the political behavior of other actors through the actual or promised use of rewards and penalties.
2. Political Resources and Political Inequality:
a. Unequal Distribution of Political Power. Every modern political society is characterized by political inequality--political inequality in the sense that the members of the society are unequal in their possession and exercise of political power. Different groups of people within the society have and wield differing degrees of political power; different groups vary in their capacities to influence, shape, and control political behavior and therefore the content and direction of public policy. The groups vary in the amounts of political power they possess and exercise because political resources are unevenly and unequally distributed.
In some political societies, political power, as we have seen, is narrowly distributed. Such societies are characterized by concentration of power. In each of these societies, political power is concentrated in one or a few elite groups and the rest of the population is virtually powerless.
In the U.S.A., political power is widely (rather than narrowly) distributed--widely distributed among a multiplicity of elites. But at the same time that political power is widely distributed throughout American society, it is also unevenly and unequally distributed. Some segments of American society possess greater political resources than do other segments. More- over, some groups within the U.S.A. are more effective than others in exploiting their potential political resources and turning them into real political power.
b. The Relationship between Political Resources and Economic Resources. From the professor's perspective, there is no way that political resources within a society could be equalized, even if this were deemed to be a desirable goal. Economic resources--money, property, wealth--constitute a prime source of political power. Since disposable income or wealth--i.e., income or wealth above and beyond that required for personal and family necessities and for operation of one's business--is a very important political resource, equalization of political resources would require that, among other things, economic resources be equalized. And this is impossible.
Even Communist-ruled societies found that it was impossible to equalize economic re- sources among the different individuals, families, groups within society. In any modern mass society--as a matter of fact, in any society whose level of development has advanced well beyond that of the primitive stage--there is a wide variety of interests and talents. Different individuals within the society have differing interests and talents, varying incli- nations and abilities. And there is wide variation in the manner in which and the degree to which the society rewards the goods and services resulting from pursuit of the different interests and application of the varying talents. Whenever a governing elite has sought to impose equalization of income and wealth on the population it rules--i.e., attempted to eliminate variations of economic reward, or compensation, for the different kind of talent, goods, and services--the government has succeeded only in destroying or seriously weak- ening economic incentives. The result has been economic decline and collapse, followed by widespread popular unrest, often leading to disruption of society and destabilization of the political regime, including armed rebellion and civil war.
Early in the history of Communist rule in the late Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the political regime had to back away from the Communist-Party goal of achieving equality of economic condition. The Soviet Communist Party found it necessary as well as expedient to redefine the Marxist-Leninist conception of just compensation for labor in a way that laid to rest--or indefinitely postponed application of--the basic principle of economic distribution expounded by Karl Marx: "From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs." Such a retreat was essential to attainment of other important goals in the Party's program--e.g., industrialization and modernization of the Soviet Union and its economy, building up the Soviet military forces, collectivization of industry and agriculture (i.e., establishment of a state socialist economic system), political indoctrination of the population, and obtaining political control of territorial areas beyond existing Soviet borders--as well as indispensable to preventing the Communist regime from being over- thrown, the latter an eventuality which the Communist governing elite ultimately failed to avoid, due to its persistent attempts to prevent or severely restrain operation of market forces within the economy.
In a free society with a wide distribution of economic and political resources--i.e., a society with a private-enterprise, market economy and a constitutional democratic system of government--varying talents and interests, for the most part, have free play. In such a democratic capitalist society, the market-allocated rewards for the different types of talent and service vary widely. The interests and abilities of some individuals cause them and their families to possess more economic resources than do other individuals and families. The inevitable consequence of this uneven and unequal distribution of economic resources is an uneven and unequal distribution of political resources. Some persons and groups have greater amounts of disposable income and wealth--income and wealth which they can devote to political purposes and generate significant political power for themselves. Those who make effective use of such political money possess and exercise greater political power than do most members of society.
c. Political Money and Other Political Resources. While an ample supply of political money, controlled and effectively utilized, is an extremely important source of political power, it is by no means the only important political resource. Numbers of people, organi- zation, and leadership are also highly potent political variables--variables that
Although an ample supply of political money is a necessary condition for a group's effec- tiveness in the political arena, it is not a sufficient condition for political efficacy. Posses- sion of or control over political money is essential; but it is not enough. Effective use of the money and effective leadership are also required. If the group enjoys the added advan- tages of a large mass membership united in a cohesive organization and strongly motivated by a common religious, moral, or ideological orientation, then the group or its leadership elite will be able to develop and wield even greater political power, provided, of course, the group's common orientation is not so extreme or fanatical--not so rigid and unbending--as to render its leaders incapable of effectively engaging in negotiation, bargaining, and compromise with other political elites.