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Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else Hardcover – October 11, 2012
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*Starred Review* Even Alan Greenspan is worried about the troubling trend of income inequality. International financial reporter Freeland looks beyond worries about the 1 percent to the even more troubling trend of the 0.1 percent of the world’s most wealthy having more in common with each other than their countrymen and acting on those interests, guaranteeing even more inequality. Is the gap between the superrich and everybody else the product of impersonal market forces or political machinations? Freeland offers an engaging and deeply analytical look at the history, politics, and economics behind the rise of the plutocrats. She draws parallels between current inequality and the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, when the top 1 percent of the U.S. population held one-third of the national income. Globalization and the technology revolution are the major factors behind what she sees as new and overlapping gilded ages: the second for the U.S., the first for developing nations. Drawing on interviews with economists and the elite themselves, Freeland chronicles lavish parties, hubris, and hand-wringing over the direction of the global economy. As she laments, The feedback loop between money, politics, and ideas is both cause and consequence of the rise of the super-elite. Readers will appreciate the broader political and economic implications of Freeland’s penetrating examination of growing global income inequality. --Vanessa Bush
One of Financial Times' Best Books of 2012
A Booklist Editor's Choice of 2012
"Rising inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats provides us with a glimpse of the lives of America's elites and a disquieting look at the society that produces them. This well-written and lively account is a good primer for anyone who wants to understand one extreme of America today."
--Joseph Stiglitz, author of The Price of Inequality; University Professor, Columbia University
"Mix crisp economics, ripe history, and two pinches of salty gossip, and you have the flavor of Chrystia Freeland’s entertaining book. From the opulent Bradley Martin ball of 1897 to its modern echoes in Sun Valley and Davos, Plutocrats chronicles the habits of the workaholic overclass—its taste for British public schools, its immodest philanthropy, its fundamental rootlessness. Even as she describes this gilded tribe, Freeland advances a paradoxical warning. Open societies may allow super-achievers to pile up extraordinary riches—and to feel that they have more or less deserved them. But the more these meritocrats succeed, the more likely they are to entrench their own offspring at the top of the heap, negating the very meritocracy that afforded them their chances. Already in the United States, graduating from college is more closely linked to having wealthy parents than to grades in high school. When class matters more than going to class, Freeland’s message must be treated with the utmost seriousness."
--Sebastian Mallaby, author of More Money than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite
"Our world increasingly revolves around global elites who not only have an oversized effect on our politics but also set the trends and furnish us with the dominant discourse. In this delightful book, Chrystia Freeland tells the story of how we got here and what distinguishes our elites from those of previous epochs. Most importantly, she explains why the elites' dominance, even when it appears benign, is a challenge to our institutions and gives us clues about how we can overcome it."
--Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail; economics professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"The world’s wealthy elite are more wealthy, more knit together, more separate from their fellow citizens and probably more powerful than ever before. This very important book describes their lives and more important how their lives affect all of ours. It should be read by anyone concerned with how their world is being shaped and how it will evolve."
--Lawrence Summers, Former U.S. Treasury Secretary; Charles W. Eliot , University Professor, Harvard University
"Chrystia Freeland has written a fascinating account of perhaps the most important economic and political development of our era: the rise of a new plutocracy. She explains that today’s wealthy are different from their predecessors: more skilled and more global; and more often employees than owners, notably so in finance and high technology. By putting together stories of individuals with reading of the scholarly evidence, she gives us a clear view of what many will view as a not so brave new world."
--Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator for the Financial Times
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Top Customer Reviews
It’s difficult to know what to make of this book. It won a batch of prizes, so it must be important. She had access to the plutocrats she writes about, and she seems to admire them. In an NPR interview, she says her superrich people “did it themselves.” For example, she refers to George Soros (her guru, it seems) as “the most successful investor of the postwar era” (p.70). Yet, she writes extensively about oligarchs, monopolists (e.g., Carlos Slim of Mexico), lobbying, legal corruption, deregulation and rent-seeking. Her plutocrats have a hand in many of these practices, but she doesn’t make the connections clear between these practices and her plutocrats.
Furthermore, there is a significant difference between real entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA) and bankers, hedge-fund managers and currency traders (e.g., Soros). The former make market capitalism work. Their wealth is earned. They truly did it themselves. The latter play money games and use government connections to their own enormous profit, and when they lose money they get bailed out by the taxpayer. She makes only a passing reference to this very important distinction.
In addition, she mentions “The vampire squid theory. . . “ (p. 271) without giving credit to the source of the theory. Well, it’s Matt Taibbi, who first published it in an article in ROLLING STONE, entitled “The Great Bubble Machine,” July 9, 2009. Why does she avoid citing him? Is it because she believes nothing of value in financial reporting could possibly come from so lowly a source as ROLLING STONE? I have news for her: he just published another article in ROLLING STONE. “The Vampire Squid Strikes Again,” (2/27/14), about the big banks and rent-seeking, the subject of her Chapter Five. Taibbi gives far more detail about rent-seeking in the US than she does.
She discusses the controversies regarding regulation of the financial markets: pages quoting many people about whether there was too much or too little regulation prior to the debacle of 2008, but no mention of Madoff. Wall Street was so poorly regulated that he got away with his huge Ponzi scheme for years, in spite of all kinds of alerts sent to the SEC, most notably by Harry Markopolos as early as 2000. He was outed only when his son turned him in. Why not mention Madoff?
If you want to know how American plutocrats get rich, read Peter Schweizer’s THROW THEM ALL OUT. He gives details about how her plutocrats use government to get rich. Nothing vague here: he mentions names.
If you are at all concerned about spiraling economic equality (and you should be if you are paying attention!) then give this book a go.
The book does a very good job of putting together in one place what one reads in bits and pieces in the news. It summarizes the world of the super rich, people that we all know exist and are in the news lately because they are behind the libertarian think tanks, SuperPACs and the Tea Party. I am an upper middle class person. Thanks to a long healthy career, persistent savings and a small inheritance from my father, I will probably have a comfortable retirement. I have an MBA and have worked many years near the type of person described. Yet still it is very difficult to understand, to "wrap my brain" around, how rich these people are. I can see $1 million of net worth but... $50 million, $500 million $1 billion, $10 billion?? There is unimaginable wealth concentrated at the top of society much, much more than ever before in human history and this book very effectively documents that.
The book does a splendid job, full of history, statistics, stories, names. It is thorough with the subject. My only (mild) complaint is that the chapters in the audiobook version are too long (30- 40 minutes each). The listener could have benefited from the chapters having been split up into more digestible 10-15 sections especially when the book text gets into names, anecdotes and statistics.
All in all a very good listen! A very valuable book.