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Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government- and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead Hardcover – February 28, 2012
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What is the appropriate balance between the market and the state in providing both opportunities and protections for its citizens?. . . For an idea of why the major economies have yet to converge around an answer, a brilliant, ambitious new book provides penetrating insights...Rothkopf's basic premise is that nation states, most of them at least, cannot make sovereign decisions about the financial, economic and global policies their citizens require without contending with the enormous market power of large global businesses whose corporate profit and autonomy far outstrips most national GDPs. . .Rothkopf's message is especially relevant for the United States, where the market fundamentalism of the 1990s fed a deregulation frenzy of explosive consequences for the decay of today's middle class, and of the country's infrastructure and human capital. . . Decades before the Occupy Wall Street movement, the slogan 'Capitalism with a Human Face' captured the aspirations of the socially-minded. Last weekend's IMF and World Bank meetings showed the many faces of Rothkopf's competing capitalisms, democratic countries nearly all of them. Yet none seemed very happy. Is the gloom permanent? The 800 years of history covered in this courageous, learned, and timely book suggests that we still have a choice. (Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations)
In his new book, Power, Inc., David Rothkopf sounds an alarm. He argues that thousands of private actors who he calls "super citizens" now hold greater power than most countries in the world. He notes, for instance, that corporations have grown to the point where roughly the richest two thousand are more influential than 70-80 percent of the world's nations. Walmart, for example, has revenues higher than the GDP of all but 25 nations. He correctly notes that these gargantuan players now prevent us from dealing with the pressing issues of our day such as global warming, growing economic inequality and embracing cleaner forms of energy. He examines watershed years of yore, such as 1288, when the world's first stock certificate was issued to Sweden's Stora, the world's oldest corporation, now a huge multinational. The point he is making is that the struggle between private and corporate power is hardly a new phenomenon. . . The story comes to life when he hones in on events which took place in the United States starting at the end of the 19th century. He recounts the time when JP Morgan literally rescued the United States government from bankruptcy in 1896. He also tells the sorry story of how corporations gained legal protections and rights in the Supreme Court starting in 1886 and ending most recently with the infamous Citizens United case in 2010. In Rothkopf's view, the world has shifted from a 'battle between capitalism and Communism to something even more complex: a battle between differing forms of capitalism in which the distinction between each is in the relative role of each is in the relative role and responsibilities of public and private sectors.' The extremes of both Soviet communism and free-market financial excesses have been discredited. American capitalism initially triumphed but has since receded: and competition between different capitalisms will continue. (Roy Ulrich, The Huffington Post)
In his new book, Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government--and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead (Viking), David Rothkopf explains how the United States, once viewed as the model for a mixed-market economy, is increasingly held captive by the avarice of private interests. Power, Inc. is an undeniably ambitious book--attempting to put the current U.S. situation into a global and historical context. . . The takeaway is profound: that relations between the state and competing interests (be it church or private enterprise) have always been strained, yet the state--and its power to enforce the fundamental social contract it has with its citizens--has never been weaker. Rothkopf is a realist at heart. He recognizes that some form of capitalism is the only way forward--be it a more activist capitalism (being pushed by the emerging powers of India and Brazil), the welfare-state capitalism of northern Europe, or what he calls the "entrepreneurial small-market" capitalism of countries like Singapore and Israel. But for the first time in more than a century, Rothkopf argues, it will not be the Americans leading the way. (Matt O'Grady, Canadian Business)
In his new book, Power, Inc., David Rothkopf offers a provocative analysis of the push-pull between big business and big government. He says the rift has gone far past simplistic political rhetoric to a larger battle: pitting American capitalism against other forms of capitalism that have emerged on the world's stage in the past decade or so. (Maureen Mackey, The Fiscal Times)
Rothkopf's book is astonishingly ambitious. It traces the relationship between state and market--a relationship that, he says, has succeeded the relationship between church and state as the dominant conflict in societies--from the thirteenth century to the present. During the past thirty years, he says, we've adopted the view that politics and markets were actually allied: freedom in one realm meant freedom in the other. The result of this idea, along with the increasing influence of business within both political parties, was a series of policies that deregulated national currencies and banking systems and enabled the globalized economy of the Superclass. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of people still live in specific places and depend on local and national governments for social benefits, beginning with items as basic as stable currencies. Globalization, in its present form, strengthens a cadre of very large businesses that Rothkopf calls 'supercitizens,' and diminishes government, which is becoming, in his nice phrase, 'too small to succeed.'… he makes it clear that he thinks that political decisions created the present situation and that only different political decisions will alleviate it. (Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker)
The problem for the right in Britain and its big brother in the US is that, after 30 years of the conservative revolution, it is now wedded to the premodern view that risks in a market economy and society should be run as individualistically as possible… But, as a growing number of us are arguing - David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy and author of the recently published Power, Inc is but the latest to sign up - the propositions ignore reality…This is a worldwide debate, as Rothkopf outlines, a bid to define what 21st-century capitalism could be. (Will Hutton, The Guardian)
A sharp rebuke of free markets run amok and a loud call for rebalancing public needs and corporate interests. (Greg Hanscom, Grist)
An enlightening account. (Mary Whaley, Booklist Review)
Rothkopf…uses a wide-angle lens to examine the relation between public and private power…[He] delivers a lively, accessible treatment of a multifaceted, complex subject. (Kirkus Starred Review)
This should be read by serious students of politics, economics, or business and will be of interest to anyone invested in our country's economic history and, especially, future. (Bonnie A. Tollefson, Library Journal)
The story of Kare the Goat…serves as a kind of creation myth for David Rothkopf's sprawling new book, Power, Inc. Stora Kopparberg, the business established in 1288 to mine for copper in the hills above Falun (Sweden), still exists making it the "oldest continuously operating corporation in the world." Rothkopf argues that the evolution of Stora from a scrappy, goat-founded outfit to a $20 billion multinational business is emblematic of a tectonic shift in international relations, in which global corporations today wield greater power than all but a handful of nation-states. Rothkopf is an energetic story-teller...the story of Stora is fascinating…The most eye-popping sections of Power, Inc., detail how decolonization, globalization and financial deregulation have subverted the prerogatives states have traditionally reserved for themselves. (Romesh Ratnesar, Bloomberg Businessweek)
As David Rothkopf points out in his incisive and timely new book, Power Inc, the pendulum has swung sharply from public to corporate in the last generation. That has changed the character of the US economy. 'In the past there was a tight connection between economic growth leading to jobs creation, which in turn led to broad wealth creation,' Mr Rothkopf says. 'Those links no longer seem to work.' (Edward Luce, Financial Times)
David Rothkopf…has a smart new book out, entitled Power, Inc., about the epic rivalry between big business and government that captures, in many ways, what the 2012 election should be about … the future of 'capitalism' and whether it will be shaped in America or somewhere else. Rothkopf argues that while for much of the 20th century the great struggle on the world stage was between capitalism and communism, which capitalism won, the great struggle in the 21st century will be about which version of capitalism will win, which one will prove the most effective at generating growth and become the most emulated. Rothkopf's view, which I share, is that the thing others have most admired and tried to emulate about American capitalism is precisely what we've been ignoring: America's success for over 200 years was largely due to its healthy, balanced public-private partnership. (Thomas Friedman, New York Times)
It would be hard to find a timelier book than Power, Inc. Where we draw the line between public and private power will shape the twenty-first century as the divide between communism and capitalism shaped the twentieth. The full dimensions of that struggle are just beginning to emerge, but David Rothkopf, as usual, is ahead of the curve with a provocative, insightful book that is easy to read and hard to put down. (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs. Princeton University)
Power and money make the world go around. Eras are defined by how they are intertwined. David Rothkopf's important book chronicles the history of the power money nexus and defines where we are and where we may be going. This book deserves much discussion in both the world's national and financial capitals. (Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University, and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury)
The frontier between governments and markets is constantly shifting. Focusing on this contested border, David Rothkopf vividly describes the parallel rise of the modern nation-state and the modern corporation. In an age of globalization, Rothkopf argues, this frontier urgently needs to be redrawn. Readers, whatever their views on this important debate, will be compelled to rethink today's economic travails and reassess expectations for tomorrow. (Daniel Yergin, author of The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World)
David Rothkopf is a deep thinker and a fine writer. We now know that he is also an astute and creative historian. Power, Inc. tells an important story: how once-weak corporations have evolved into the muscular institutions that are now stronger than many countries--and have been grotesquely enabled in the United States by Citizens United. It's also chock full of fascinating historical tidbits. Who knew that the copper industry may have begun with a goat? Read it to be informed and delighted. (Alan S. Blinder, former Vice Chairman, U.S. Federal Reserve, and Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University)
At a time when our political debate lacks clarity and our economic model is floundering, David Rothkopf brings a compelling vision to the table, both about the challenges that we face and about what the future might look like. It is based on his own experience in business and government and on a remarkably detailed sense of history. He describes how the complex relationship between private and public interest has evolved since the time of Sweden's first king, and how that relationship at least in part explains our current malaise. Rothkopf employs a brilliant use of history to identify the channels that could, in the end, lead to a better way forward. (Carol Graham, Senior Fellow and Charles Robinson Chair, The Brookings Institution, and author of The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being)
About the Author
David Rothkopf is the internationally acclaimed author of Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making and Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. He is the president and chief executive of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and CEO and Editor-at-Large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy Magazine.
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Top customer reviews
With that distinction made, the book is a fascinating and accessible primer on the origins, evolution, and nature of power, with a scope spanning from medieval times right up until the date of publication. While I don't necessarily agree with Rothkopf's interpretation of some events, I felt it was an accurate enough dissection and characterization of the factors that influence governance that I started recommending it to friends and coworkers as a good way to grasp what gave an entity legitimate power in the eyes of the people.
However, something about the book wasn't sitting well with me, and I couldn't put my finger on it until I was approaching the book's final chapters: Rothkopf hardly talks about the people, or their role in the mix of power. In fact, it is only in the very last line that he acknowledges that all power accrued by either a corporation or a government flows from the consent of the people to either part with their money or be governed. In a book about power--especially in a book about the power of corporations--you'd think the influence of the proletariat would play a bigger role. Perhaps Rothkopf didn't want to wade into the complexity and capriciousness associated with teasing apart the power of the people and its influence on world events in a book he intended to be straightforward and streamlined but, more likely, I believe he was probably writing about what he knows. Rothkopf comes from the inner circles of power elites (which he hints at often in the book) who already hold sway over large constituencies, either political or commercial, and believe the influence they've derived from that control is a given. It's not, and I need point no further than the Arab Spring to show how tenuous even a dictator's grasp on power really is. If you're wondering why I docked a star from Power, Inc, the fact Rothkopf glossed over this key component of the nature and balance of power (only giving it a token nod at the end of his book) is why.
Returning to the reckoning, I think Rothkopf is trying to advocate a strengthening of government oversight on corporations and the creation of a supra-national governing entity. I say "I think," because Rothkopf is fastidiously neutral, which is nice most of the time, but it also makes it hard to tell where he's coming from. To his credit, I think he advocates this viewpoint only because he's trying to find an oversight structure equivalent to the operating environment multinational corporations have created for themselves. This would, of course, be a reckoning because it would represent a massive increase in government power and coordination...but there are no signs that's going to happen anytime soon, despite the ovations Rothkopf's circles are making in that direction; there is simply too much mistrust in the international community and not enough damage on the part of multinationals for the people to rise up against them.
At the end of the day, money is power, and even with the growing inequity, people have power. We accidentally kill companies all the time simply because they went out of style and couldn't figure out what the people wanted. Whether it's taxes or sales, companies and governments cannot survive without the consent of the people, and I wish Rothkopf had factored that into his calculations more, instead of assuming the world's population would always play the part of willing pawn. I wish I could dock him more stars for what I think is a gross oversight, but the book was otherwise really well done and mostly covered a time when people thought (and generally accepted that) God had made them pawns, and he does a pretty good job of it.
In conclusion, Power, Inc. does a really good job of outlining how the ecosystem of private and public power that exists today came to be, but is more of a history book leading up to a current imbalance of power instead of a thorough analysis of how that imbalance can/might/would/should correct itself. The book is fastidiously neutral, which is mostly quite nice and refreshing, but it extends to his analysis, where I wish he'd take a stronger stand and state his beliefs clearly. He almost completely ignores a major component of the power mix, though, and I think the book is incomplete for it...but it's definitely usable, accessible, accurate in the things it does cover, and fun to read. If I knew what I know now about the book before I read it, I probably still would have read it.
Side note: Incidentally, I also used the Whispersync function ( Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry between Big Business and Government - and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead ) while making my way through this book so I could listen while I commuted. The narration was crisp and lively, and it did a good job of holding my attention while I drove. If you like audiobooks, or just spend a lot of time using your eyes for things other than reading, but not your mind, I recommend considering this alternate format.