The New Power Elite

The New Power Elite

Inequality, Politics and Greed

By Alan Shipman
June Edmunds
Bryan Turner

Key Issues in Modern Sociology

‘Greedy Elites’ explains why today’s revolt against the ‘rich and powerful’ is led by billionaires and political insiders, sidelining elites’ traditional enemies. It links social, economic and political theory and evidence to show how rivalries within an elite always eclipse (and co-opt) popular or class-based rebellions in driving social change.

Hardback, 278 Pages


April 2018

£70.00, $115.00

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About This Book

The key questions about today’s elites are easy to ask. How did a few spectacularly wealthy bankers and fund managers, whose magic money-tree crumbled to sawdust in 2008, get themselves bailed out with public funds that no health service or infrastructure commission could dream of? Why did democratically elected governments allow the ‘1%’, and those at even more exquisite decimal places, to flee further enriched from a market meltdown that would traditionally have culled their ‘capital’? Why, when voters in America, Europe and Asia turned against governments that had made them pay twice for corporate excess, did they rally behind dissenting members of the elite, rather than traditional anti-elitist parties? What enables the domination of politics and business by an unchosen few – skewing the distributions of power, wealth and status even further skywards – when such pyramids were meant to be flattened long ago by democratization, meritocratic selection and social mobility?

‘Greedy Elites’ derives answers from the latest empirical evidence on rising concentrations of economic and political power, allied to new theories of how elites maintain, apply and justify their ascent over the rest of the society. It traces contemporary turbulence to the membership and internal dynamics of elites – economic, political and social – and the way they manage their connections to the rest of society. The composition and conduct of decision-making ‘higher circles’ remains central to explaining how national and multilateral political arrangements remain stable for long periods, interspersed with phases of abrupt change. ‘Greedy Elites’ also sheds light on why the patterns of change are often common across countries that differ in strength of democracy and civil society, and why they typically raise fractions of the previous elite to greater prominence, despite mass protest aimed at bringing the whole elite down to earth. Sixty years after C. Wright Mills’s pioneering probe of the Power Elite in the US, ‘Greedy Elites’ offers new and internationally applicable ideas on the importance of frictions within the elite in sparking and steering wider social change; the shifting relationship between power and money within elites; the alternative ways in which elite fractions enrol ‘middle’ and ‘working’ class elements in their power struggles, and the typical developmental consequences of elites alternately forming and breaking up distributional class coalitions.


‘This book is a useful contribution to the current debates on the growing influence of the plutocracy. With its comparative and international focus, it adds an important dimension to the ongoing debates in the US and Europe.’
—Michèle Lamont, Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies, and Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, USA

‘C. Wright Mills rides again, over 60 years later, in this vigorously argued analysis which is based on a powerful alliance of class and elite theory.’
—William Outhwaite, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Newcastle University, UK

Author Information

Alan Shipman is an economist, currently with the Open University, UK, who has also worked as an emerging markets analyst, and industrial and social researcher.

June Edmunds lectures in sociology at the University of Sussex, UK, and is an affiliated senior research fellow at the Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge, UK.

Bryan S. Turner is professor of the sociology of religion at the Australian Catholic University, an honorary professor at the University of Potsdam, Germany, and an emeritus professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA.


Key Issues in Modern Sociology

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations; Preface; 1. Elites under Siege; 2. Power, Networks and Higher Circles; 3. Sources of Stability: Elite Circulations and Class Coalitions; 4. Rousing Rebellion: Elite Fractions and Class Divisions; 5. Politics and Money; 6. Inequality: Causes and Consequences; 7. Elites and Democracy; 8. Giveaways and Greed; Afterword: The Best and the Rest; References; Index.


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