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LQD: The rise of the superclass

by das monde Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 04:31:42 AM EST

Just at the time when we start wondering how much world's developments are influenced by the richest and most powerful persons, which actually get ever more stupendously rich and powerful with ease, there appears the book "Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making" by David Rothkopf.

I haven't seen the book, but picked up some reviews from Amazon.com and an article at Salon.com.

The author is a humble insider of sorts: a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, acclaimed author of Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, now lecturing, serving at advisory firms (say, Kissinger Associates).

First, some sniplets from Amazon.com:

"Whether you like it or not, there is no way to deny the enormous, disproportionate, concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of people in the world today.  David Rothkopf has vividly described who they are, and how they operate and interact, in his valuable (and often disturbing) new book."  -- Richard Holbrooke, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

"No, no vast conspiracy runs the world. But, according to Rothkopf's book, a tiny but diverse global elite, a Superclass, comes close. His finely-honed prose takes the reader on a joyous, entertaining, and erudite romp around the globe in search of that class." -- Alan Blinder, Former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States

"The activities of a growing cosmopolitan elite are having profound effects. They can be highly desirable when they promote international cooperation or more problematic when the interests of the elites diverge from those of their citizens. David Rothkopf's Superclass skillfully probes these issues and many more and should be read by all those concerned with the international economy and the evolving global system."  -- Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

"Superclass is a timely and detailed analysis of the disproportionate power and hence responsibility of an incredibly small group of individuals: the global power elites whose strongest allegiances are not with their countries but with each other.  Understanding the implications of this shift beyond the nation-state is of great importance and Rothkopf has made a significant first step."  -- Bob Wright, Vice Chairman, General Electric, and former President and CEO, NBC Universal

Book Description ... They number six thousand on a planet of six billion. They run our governments, our largest corporations, the powerhouses of international finance, the media, world religions, and, from the shadows, the world's most dangerous criminal and terrorist organizations. They are the global superclass, and they are shaping the history of our time.

Today's superclass has achieved unprecedented levels of wealth and power. They have globalized more rapidly than any other group. But do they have more in common with one another than with their own countrymen, as nationalist critics have argued? They control globalization more than anyone else. But has their influence fed the growing economic and social inequity that divides the world? What happens behind closeddoor meetings in Davos or aboard corporate jets at 41,000 feet? Conspiracy or collaboration? Deal-making or idle self-indulgence? ...

Now I'll try to quote Salon.com with moderation:

In the first chapter [the] author quotes Mark Malloch Brown, a British minister of state and former deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, recalling what it was like to walk with his wife through a reception in New York for the World Economic Forum. [After] crossing the room and shaking countless manicured hands in the process, the couple turned to each other and marveled that "we walk though the Davos party and know more people than when we're walking across the village green in the town we live in."

Brown is far from the only one who could tell such a tale. "Davos man" is an epithet coined by the conservative scholar Samuel Huntington to describe the very specific type that attends the conference. These are people who, as Huntington wrote, "have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite's global operations."

[Money] alone doesn't cut the mustard. A fabulously wealthy widow living out the end of a quiet life isn't in the superclass; you must not only possess power, but also freely exercise it. [The] pope is a member of the superclass, as is Osama bin Laden, who can undoubtedly claim influence over current international affairs, even if he sometimes lives in a cave. The Russian illegal arms dealer Viktor "Merchant of Death" Bout is a member, as are Rupert Murdoch and Bill Clinton...

Rothkopf's outlook on these players is roughly Clintonian. He believes in capitalism as an engine for prosperity, but he's leery of the free-market gospel that dictates that "market reforms" ought to be imposed on faltering economies whatever the social and political costs. [Taking] a dinner party at the home of Chile's finance minister, Andres Velasco, as an example, Rothkopf describes his uneasy response to the oligarchs around him. [They] embrace the market-oriented philosophy of the "Chicago Boys" [but] only so long as the attendant suffering is limited to Chile's lower classes. They quietly resist reforms that might nibble away at their iron control of the nation's industries. "While many of the most powerful people in the country embrace 'progress,'" Rothkopf observes of Chile, "they use their energy and political capital primarily on behalf of the changes that benefit them most directly. Elites in Chile have implicitly or explicitly resisted the changes that might create more competition, more entrepreneurship, more access to capital for the poor and middle classes."

[Above] all, like anybody else -- in fact, more than anybody else, given the obsessive, often narcissistic energy required of moguls, politicians and would-be messiahs -- these people are self-interested. [Still,] Rothkopf insists that elites ought to look out for the disadvantaged.

Just the sort of thing that makes me spit out my Weetabix...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 05:02:27 AM EST
Sounds like a companion to Two Hundred Pharaohs, Five Billion Slaves

Two Hundred Pharaohs, Five Billion Slaves examines the rise of the international bourgeoisie and the creation of their world of intense leisure shopping. Starting from thesis that the whole of capitalist society can be viewed as nothing more sophisticated than a vast, unstable network of constantly rising and tumbling pyramid schemes, it highlights the fact that only a handful of socially isolated and insecure billionaires (the 'pharaohs' of its title) can hope to benefit from a system that squanders the immense potential of modern technology. The strength of this work is derived from its exposition of how this system alters our build environment and determines the very fabric of our daily lives.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 05:15:06 AM EST
Interesting, but (without having read the book) I get the feeling this can become a bit of a gadget. Take this from Salon for example:

[The] pope is a member of the superclass, as is Osama bin Laden, who can undoubtedly claim influence over current international affairs, even if he sometimes lives in a cave. The Russian illegal arms dealer Viktor "Merchant of Death" Bout is a member, as are Rupert Murdoch and Bill Clinton...

Yeah, well... This could be said of powerful people at any time in history. Is it enough to draw up a list and call them a superclass? I'd actually be more interested in analysis of the money, the control over economic globalisation, and how economic globalisation fills their pockets and gives them specifically different or new powers. But perhaps that's in the book...

(PS Viktor Bout was arrested last week.)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 05:29:56 AM EST
The concern is that that the wealth and power concentration reached "unhealthy" levels - say, not necessarily unprecedented, but not of normally sustainable level. If you compare with the situation with few decades ago (before Reagan, Friedman, etc), workers were getting better salaries, living better and more secure lives, while now they can't "aford" that. You have a class of priveleged deciders, and the rest must follow a pretty slavery routine. There is some risk of totalitarian control by some 6 or 60 of those 6000.

Aomw thoughts of mine in that direction are here, here and here.

by das monde on Sat Mar 15th, 2008 at 06:15:15 AM EST
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