The Public Interest

The new political science of corporate power

David Vogel

Spring 1987

AMOUNT Of political power exercised by business has been the subject of considerable debate among political scientists. Their views have fallen roughly into two camps. One perspective views business primarily as an interest group, actively competing with a plurality of other political constituencies to both define the political agenda and influence specific public policies. In the political marketplace, business is not regarded as enjoying any particular advantages that cannot be matched by other interest groups. As a result, its power varies depending on such factors as the climate of public opinion, the performance of the economy, the political skills and resources of particular companies or industries, and the relative strength of other interest groups. This perspective is commonly identified with pluralism. Another approach regards business not as another interest group but as a kind of private government, which enjoys a privileged position in American polities. Its ability to define the terms of public debate and its superior access to government officials is seen as overshadowing that of any other political constituency, thus making a mockery of the principles of pluralist democracy.

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