Top Down Policymaking


Thomas R. Dye

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

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    Tables and Figures

    • 2.1 America's Largest Nonfinancial Corporations 18
    • 2.2 America's Largest Commercial Banks 19
    • 2.3 America's Largest Insurance Companies 19
    • 2.4 America's Largest Investment Firms 20
    • 2.5 America's Largest Exporters 23
    • 2.6 The Worlds Largest Industrial Corporations 24
    • 2.7 Mass Attitudes toward the Accumulation of Wealth 32
    • 2.8 Even the Poor Have More 36
    • 2.9 America's Belief in Social Mobility 37
    • 3.1 The Billion Dollar Foundations 43
    • 3.2 Funding the Policy Formulation Process 47
    • 4.1 The Cost of a Seat in Congress 70
    • 4.2 Sources of Campaign Cash 70
    • 4.3 Characteristics of Individual Campaign Contributors 71
    • 4.4 Presidential Election: Twenty-five Largest Contributors, 1996 74
    • 4.5 Congressional Elections: Twenty-five Largest Contributors 75
    • 4.6 Soft Money: Twenty-five Largest Contributors, Congressional Elections, 1998 76
    • 4.7 Campaign Contributions to the Parties by Elite Sector 81
    • 5.1 Types of Lobbyists 86
    • 5.2 Washington's Largest Lobbying Spenders 89
    • 5.3 Top Washington Lobbying Firms 93
    • 5.4 The Superlawyer Firms 94
    • 5.5 The Growth of PACs 95
    • 5.6 The Distribution of PAC Money in Congress 96
    • 5.7 Fifty Largest PAC Contributors, Congressional Elections, 1998 97
    • 6.1 Declining Mass Confidence in America's Institutional Leadership 113
    • 7.1 Mass Views of Their Own Influence in Policymaking 120
    • 7.2 Mass Confidence in Institutions 121
    • 7.3 Incumbent Advantage 125
    • 7.4 Congressional Leadership PAC Contributions 128
    • 7.5 Party Unity in Congress 129
    • 7.6 Standing Committees in Congress 130
    • 8.1 Major U.S. Government Regulatory Bureaucracies 146
    • 8.2 U.S. Government Formal Budgetary Process 152
    • 8.3 Changing Patterns of U.S. Government Spending 155
    • 9.1 Selected Policy Evaluation Studies by Leading Think Tanks 170
    • 1.1 Top-Down Policymaking 5
    • 1.2 Bottom-Up Policymaking 10
    • 2.1 The Growth of World Trade in the U.S. Economy 21
    • 2.2 U.S. Tariff Policy over Time 22
    • 2.3 International Investment 24
    • 2.4 Growth in U.S. Corporate Profits 26
    • 2.5 Decline in Worker Earnings 26
    • 2.6 Income Inequality in America 30
    • 2.7 Unequal Family Income Growth 31
    • 2.8 Intergenerational Income Mobility 38
    • 3.1 The Top-Down Policy Formulation Process 40
    • 3.2 The Conservative Policy Network 53
    • 4.1 The Top-Down Leadership Selection Process 67
    • 4.2 Rising Campaign Costs 69
    • 5.1 The Top-Down Interest Group Process 86
    • 5.2 Mass Views about Who Has Too Much Influence in Washington 99
    • 6.1 The Top-Down Opinion Making Process 104
    • 6.2 Media Influence with the Masses 108
    • 7.1 How a Bill Becomes a Law 123
    • 7.2 Top-Down Leadership 126
    • 7.3 The Rise of Partisan Voting in Congress 128
    • 7.4 Presidential Support and Congressional Policy Legitimation 134
    • 8.1 Top-Down Policy Implementation 138
    • 8.2 U.S. Government Organization Chart 142
    • 8.3 U.S. Government Spending by Function 151
    • 9.1 Top-Down Policy Evaluation 160


    TOP DOWN POLICYMAKING provides a thorough evaluation of the processes by which the national elite goes about transforming its own values, interests, and preferences into public policy. It is a study of the way in which public policy is made. It briefly describes the structure of wealth and power in America, but it focuses principally on how wealth and power flow into government and the policymaking process.

    Top Down Policymaking sets forth a model of national policymaking that envisions four separate processes by which elites influence the policies of government—the policy formulation process, the interest group process, the leadership selection process, and the opinion making process. It then proceeds to describe government legitimation and implementation of the policy initiatives and reforms inspired by national elites. Finally, it describes both public and private processes of policy evaluation.

    This book argues that even in a democracy, public policy is made from the top down, not from the bottom up. It describes how the policy agenda flows downward from elites to government through a network of foundations, “think tanks,” policy planning organizations, and the media. It describes the crucial role of monied elites in selecting the nation's political leadership. It describes the elite-financed interest group process that dominates policymaking activity in Washington. And it describes the unique role of the nation's media elite in policy formulation and the communication of elite views to both government decision makers and the masses of Americans.

    Policies are given legitimacy by the institutions of government; legitimacy does not arise out of popular support for the policies themselves. Indeed, this book argues that there is a notable lack of congruence between the policy preferences of the American public and current national policies on a number of highly visible issues. It also argues that Congress itself functions largely on the basis of top-down leadership and, moreover, that the costs of running for Congress virtually guarantee the dependency of its members on financial elites. It argues that the policy implementation process, lodged in the Washington bureaucracy, is closely monitored by the nation's elite both directly and through interest group oversight. And it argues that the most important function of government from the perspective of the nation's elite—the regulation of the money supply—is undertaken independently of any elected officials by the Federal Reserve Board.

    Throughout this volume, boxed features focus on relevant topics and key players in the current policymaking environment, offering vivid illustration of the top-down policymaking model. Among the issues highlighted are elite attitudes toward citizen policymaking, global trade policy, preferential tax treatment for investors, the influence of money in politics, tobacco legislation, the conflicting policy views of media and business elites, “banking reform,” the divergence of public policy from popular preferences, mass distrust of government bureaucracies, public opinion about government waste, and the evaluation and reform of welfare policy. Among the influential elites profiled are the Ford Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, the Conservative Policy Network, the Business Roundtable, the media empires, and the Federal Reserve Board.


    Support for research and preparation of this book was provided by the Lincoln Center for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and research organization serving the citizens of Florida and the nation. The views expressed in this book are those of the author only; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Lincoln Center for Public Service, its officers, or its trustees (Lincoln Center for Public Service, Suite 224, Bank of America Center, 1801 South Federal Highway, Delray Beach, Florida, 33483).

  • Notes

    Notes to Chapter 1

    1. E.E. Schattschneider, Two Hundred Million Americans in Search of a Government (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969), 63.

    2. Charles E. Lindblom and Edward J. Woodhouse, The Policymaking Process, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993), 9.

    3. See Thomas R. Dye, Understanding Public Policy, 9th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998), 2–4.

    4. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), 9.

    5. For various descriptions of America's elite, see G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? Power and Politics in the Year 2000 (Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 1998); Thomas R. Dye, Who's Running America? 6th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995); and Robert Lerner, Althea K. Nagai, and Stanley Rothman, American Elites (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).

    6. For an argument that the relative autonomy of elite groups is necessary for the preservation of democracy, see Eva Etzioni-Halevy, The Elite Connection (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 1993).

    Notes to Chapter 2

    1. James Madison, Federalist No. 10.

    2. Fortune, 27 April 1999, 138.

    3. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1998.

    4. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1999, 478.

    5. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1999, 417.

    6. Regional Financial Associates, as reported in U.S. News & World Report, 1 November, 1999.

    7. Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy: A Study of Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1995).

    8. Ibid.

    9. Richard B. Freeman, “Are Your Wages Set in Beijing?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 9 (Summer 1995): 15.

    10. Madison, Federalist No. 10.

    11. Quoted in Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition (New York: Knopf, 1948), 45.

    12. See Herbert McClosky and John Zaller, The American Ethos (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984).

    13. See James R. Kluegel and Eliot R. Smith, Beliefs about Inequality (New York: Aldine, 1986).

    14. Gallup International Research, as reported in U.S. News & World Report, 7 August 1989.

    15. Council of Economic Advisers, Economic Report of the President, 1995 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995), 232.

    Notes to Chapter 3

    1. G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? Power and Politics in the Year 2000 (Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield, 1998), 117.

    2. The Foundation Directory 1999 (New York: The Foundation Center, 1999).

    3. Quoted in Forbes, 15 May 1972.

    4. Carnegie Corporation of New York, Mission Statement, 1999.

    5. Leonard Silk and Mark Silk, The American Establishment (New York: Basic Books, 1980), 160.

    6. Brookings also served as chairman of the board of trustees of Washington University in St. Louis for twenty years, building a small college into a major university.

    7. Quoting AEI President William Baroody Jr. in Silk and Silk, American Establishment, 179.

    8. Heritage Foundation, Annual Report 1985, 1.

    9. Heritage Foundation, Mission Statement, 1999.

    10. Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report, 1979–80, 11.

    11. Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report, 1992, 14.

    12. See the CFR study by Jessica Stern, The Ultimate Terrorists (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).

    13. The Trilateral Commission at 25 (New York: The Trilateral Commission, 1998).

    14. Quoted in Newsweek, 24 March 1980.

    15. Trilateral Commission, “About the Trilateral Commission,” 1998.

    16. Council on Economic Development, “About the CED,” 1999, 2.

    17. Business Roundtable, “An Introduction to the Business Roundtable,” 1999, 1.

    18. Business Roundtable, “What the Roundtable Is,” 1988, 1.

    19. G. William Domhoff, The Powers That Be (New York: Random House, 1978), 61.

    Notes to Chapter 4

    1. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).

    2. See Frank J. Sorauf, Inside Campaign Finance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992).

    Notes to Chapter 5

    1. Jeffrey M. Berry, The New Liberalism: The Rising Power of Citizen Groups (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1999).

    2. Jack L. Walker, Mobilizing Interest Groups in American Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991).

    3. Fortune, 8 December 1997.

    4. Center for Responsive Politics, Influence Inc., 1999.

    5. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), 289.

    6. The political science literature is extensive but mixed in its findings regarding the effect of PAC contributions on congressional voting. See James B. Kau and Paul H. Rubin, Congressmen, Constituents, and Contributors: Determinants of Roll Call Votes in the House of Representatives (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982); J. Wright, “Contributions, Lobbying, and Committee Voting in the U.S. House of Representatives,” American Political Science Review 84 (June 1999): 417–38; Janet M. Grezke, “PACs and the Congressional Supermarket: The Currency Is Complex,” American Journal of Political Science 33 (1989): 1–24; F.L. Davis, “Balancing the Perspective on PAC Contributions: In Search of an Impact on Roll Calls,” American Politics Quarterly 21 (April 1993): 205–22.

    Notes to Chapter 6

    1. William A. Henry, “News as Entertainment,” in What's News, ed. Elie Abel (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1981), 134.

    2. E.E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1961), 68.

    3. Bernard Cohen, The Press and Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 10.

    4. See Doris A. Graber, Mass Media and American Politics, 5th ed. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1996).

    5. National Institute of Mental Health, Television and Behavior (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1982).

    6. Ted Smith, “The Watchdog's Bite,” American Enterprise 2 (January/February 1990): 66.

    7. Michael J. Robinson, “Public Affairs Television and the Growth of Political Malaise,” American Political Science Review 70 (June 1976): 409–32. See also Thomas E. Patterson, Out of Order (New York: Random House, 1993).

    8. See Austin Ranney, Channels of Power (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

    9. Benjamin I. Page, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Glen R. Dempsey, “What Moves Public Opinion,” American Political Science Review 81 (March 1987): 23–43.

    Notes to Chapter 7

    1. B. Guy Peters, American Public Policy, 5th ed. (New York: Chatham House, 1999), 73.

    2. James Madison, Federalist No. 10.

    3. Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964), 17.

    4. “Speech to the Electors of Bristol,” 3 November 1774.

    5. Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter, “The U.S. Public's Knowledge of Politics,” Public Opinion Quarterly 55 (May 1991): 583–612.

    6. Only 11 percent of respondents could remember how their U.S. representative had voted on any issue in the preceding two years. See Warren Miller et al., American National Election Study 1990 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, 1992), 126–29.

    7. Richard F. Fenno, Home Style: House Members in their Districts (Boston: Little, Brown, 1978), 153; also quoted in Roger H. Davidson and Walter J. Oleszek, Congress and Its Members (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2000), 149.

    8. See John W. Kingdon, Congressmen's Voting Decisions (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

    9. Survey by Louis Harris, reported in American Enterprise, May/June, 1992, 103.

    10. See Davidson and Oleszek, Congress and Its Members.

    11. Alan Ehrenhalt, The United States of Ambition: Politicians, Power, and the Pursuit of Office (New York: Random House, 1991), 22.

    12. See Frank Sorauf, Inside Campaign Finance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).

    13. Much anecdotal evidence is collected by Public Citizen. See that organization's publication Campaign Finance Quid Pro Quos, 25 March 1997.

    14. Representative Romano Mazzolli (D-Ky.), as quoted in Money Begets Access, Access Begets Action, Center for Responsive Politics, 1999, 1.

    15. Representative Mel Levine (D-Calif.), as quoted in Martin Schram, Speaking Freely: Former Members of Congress Talk about Money and Politics, Center for Responsive Politics, 1995, 89.

    16. Solicitation: None Dare Call It Coercion or Extortion, Center for Responsive Politics, 1999, 1.

    17. Ibid., 2.

    18. See David Epstein and Peter Zemsky, “Money Talks: Deterring Quality Challengers in Congressional Elections,” American Political Science Review 89 (June 1995): 295–308.

    19. Peters, American Public Policy, 89.

    Notes to Chapter 8

    1. Donald S. Van Meter, “The Policy Implementation Process,” Administration and Society 6 (February 1975): 447.

    2. “Key Regulatory Facts and Figures,” Sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. See also Kenneth J. Meier, Politics and the Bureaucracy (Ft. Worth, Tex.: Harcourt Brace, 2000).

    3. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber (New York: Oxford, 1958).

    4. William Niskanen, Bureaucracy and Representative Government (Chicago: Aldine, 1971).

    5. Aaron Wildavsky, The New Politics of the Budgetary Process (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1988).

    6. James Q. Wilson, Bureaucracy: What Bureaucrats Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic Books, 1989).

    7. Data available at the Office of the Federal Register. See also U.S. General Accounting Office, Regulatory Reform Yields Mixed Results (Washington, D.C.: GAO, 1997).

    8. See Thomas D. Hopkins, Regulatory Costs in Profile (Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of American Business, 1996).

    9. Reginal S. Sheehan, “Federal Agencies and the Supreme Court,” American Politics Quarterly 20 (October 1992): 478–500.

    Notes to Chapter 9

    1. General Accounting Office, Federal Evaluation Issues (Washington, D.C.: GAO, 1989), 4.

    2. See, for example, David Nachmias, Public Policy Evaluation (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979); Evert Vedung, Public Policy and Program Evaluation (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1997).

    3. Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram, “Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy,” American Political Science Review 87 (June 1993): 334–47.

    4. B. Guy Peters, American Public Policy, 5th ed. (New York: Chatham House, 1999), 175.

    5. Ibid., 176–82.

    6. Charles E. Lindblom and Edward J. Woodhouse, The Policy-Making Process, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993), 31.

    7. Charles E. Lindblom, The Intelligence of Democracy: Decision Making through Mutual Adjustment (New York: Free Press, 1965).

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