Societies can be classified by their principal forms of production: preindustrial societies with primary sector production; industrial societies with secondary sector production; and postindustrial societies with tertiary sector production. The United States today is probably best characterized as an advanced industrial society. Although the U.S. economy is a form of capitalism, it has some features of a mixed economy. Most countries are mixed economies of socialist and capitalistic principles. Among the problems of the U.S. economic system is the concentration of wealth in the hands of a limited number of people and corporations, corporate welfare, national and consumer debt, and unemployment. Transnational corporations—accountable to no single government—may increase these problems. Social scientists distinguish between politics (power) and the government (the political system). The United States is a democracy: a representative democracy, where elected representatives make the decisions. The U.S. political system faces a number of problems: voter apathy, the gender gap, and the way money is raised to finance political campaigns. The huge federal bureaucracy also has a major influence—high-ranking bureaucrats have been referred to as the permanent government—bureaucrats remain in their posts despite the outcome of elections. Another concern is the military-industrial complex. Sociologists argue for the functionalist or conflict perspectives on the political economy.


1. Given the fact that running for a national political office is an extremely costly endeavor, combined with recent allegations about “soft money” political contributions, what can be done to make running for high offices such as the presidency and the vice presidency a more ethical and less expensive endeavor for candidates? How will these changes affect elections and government and general?

2. How do the media contribute to rampant consumerism and high rates of debt in this country? What relationships exist between consumerism and social problems such as environmental pollution and crime?


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