The Super-Rich as Villains; U.S. Income Inequality Is Today's Hot Political Issue: Where Will It Lead?

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Hoffmann

PLUTOCRATS The Rise Of The New Global Super-Rich And The Fall Of Everyone Else

Author: Chrystia Freeland

Data: The Penguin Press, 336 pages, $27.95

"A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine that pain must be more agonizing and the convulsions of death more terrible to persons of higher rank than to those of meaner stations."

Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" (Epigraph for Chapter 6)

"Plutocrats" is a lively description of the world's super-rich, a worthy successor to Thorstein Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class" (1899) and C. Wright Mills' "The Power Elite" (1956). Chrystia Freeland is not an academic, like Veblen and Mills, but rather a business writer with impressive journalistic credentials as well as a well-received book about the re-emergence of Russian capitalism, "Sale of the Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution."

While Veblen and Mills were dogged throughout their careers by critics who charged them with being socialists or worse, Freeland is a frequent participant in the global capitalist economic "summits" that proliferate today. She believes that capitalism is the best economic system devised by our species, but is skeptical about apologists for capitalism who conflate what is good for profits as always being good for society. ("Cognitive state capture" is the term she uses to describe the contemporary reality that so many of those who govern here and abroad have internalized the "objectives, interests, and perceptions of reality of the capitalists.")

Today's super-rich surpass their predecessors in terms of wealth, comprising a global elite with sometimes-tenuous ties to any given locale. Like big-wave surfers who travel the world looking for the best surf, today's global economic elite have the ability to intuit the direction the twin economic drivers of technology and globalism are headed, throughout the world, and to catch the next paradigm shift at its peak and ride it to further fame and fortune - while others are left behind in the backwash, their boards broken into pieces.

A high percentage of today's super-rich come from modest enough beginnings although one common denominator is an excellent public school education and matriculation at an elite university, such as the Ivy League or their West Coast equivalents, Stanford and Berkeley. …