ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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US Ruling Class

the 1980s James Petras Christian Davenport BASIC changes in the structure of US capitalism have been under way for more than twenty years. A number of studies have described the declining role of industrial capitalism and the fact that it is no longer the organising principle around which US society is structured.1 One line of thought has posited the emergence of a post-industrial high technology information economy, while, more recently, the emphasis has shifted toward the ascendancy of financial, real estate and speculative capital.2 By the 1980s, the US was no longer the major manufacturer of machine tools. It had become a net importer of industrial manufactured goods and was quickly losing its dominant position in advanced computers.3 The ramifications of this transformation were manifold: industrial employment for working class youth dried up, forcing many to choose between minimum wage service employment or the 'underground economy', i e, drugs and related illicit sources of income.4 Those writers who advanced the thesis of the ascendancy of speculator and financial capital noted that a minimally educated, housed and healthy labour force was no longer necessary. State policy drastically reducing spending on education, health services and housing was compatible with this new phase of capitalist development. Moreover, the growth of real estate and finance capital, it was argued, increased the returns on rent and interest at the expense of profits, thus further undermining the US global industrial position and nationally employed. The ever-increasing 'junk bond' market is a perfect reflection of this phenomenon, as the high risk-high expected return mentality is paramount.5 The total number of 'junk' bond issuance has consequently risen from 1.1 million in 1977 to 45.6 million in 1986.6 'The growth of the 'paper economy', however, operates in an increasingly volatile climate punctured by wild fluctuation of the stock market and burgeoning corporate indebtedness. 7 The declining US trade position and the growing budget deficits reflect both the loss of industrial market power and the increasing use of the state to finance and subsidise capital growth. The restructuring of US capitalism has thus been a major factor affecting both the internal structure of US society and its economic stability, as well as its international competitive position. In this article we analyse the shift in US capitalism through an examination of the principal sources of income for the wealthiest 400 US capitalists as listed in Forbes magazine over the last decade.8 In addition to this, we shall also explore the manner in which the US economy is reconsolidating itself and what effects this has on the greater society. In line with our previous discussion, we examine the proposition that the principal source of wealth has shifted from industry to finance and real state among the leading sectors of the capitalist class.

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