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Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market Paperback – April 5, 2011
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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This is the beauty of words and language, because they define our understanding of our world. Without understanding our surroundings we remain ignorant and our responses to our environment are limited and in many cases such as the Iraq war disastrous.
Janine R. Wedel showed me that my experience with the organizational and enforcement tactics of street gangs in New York City slums was the best business education I could get. She explains how chaotic conditions are the best opportunities a resourceful person can get to break into the elite world controlled by monopolistic streaks in capitalism or the nomenclature/clan controlled world of post-communism. I have seen it, participated in it and benefited from it!
What I didn't realize was that this world I swam in was a recent social and political development. Janine R. Wedel in her masterful "Shadow Elites" has enlightened me to this nefarious world of greed, amorality and in the extreme cases, of traitorous behavior in the "Shadow Elite".
She has done what Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations did, namely describe to the unsuspecting public the obvious. She has named names and their odious supposedly saintly deeds, their methods and the evolution of today's political and business climate and their symbiosis.
She has given as an example the Trotskyist party in America in the forties and how it morphed into the Neo Cons of today. She describes their gaming of today's government, which led our Nation into a criminal enterprise, namely the second Iraq war.
She also gives as an example the Harvard University-Russian Mafia Nexus in the guise of Larry Summers of Harvard and Anatoly Chubais of Russia. I have seen that work in real life when I did business in 1991-93 in Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
She is the real thing. I can see a trained scholar of public policy and anthropology. Her training and perceptive abilities are on par with Tocqueville.
She identifies a whole new universe of what she calls "flex" people and "flexnets"--the behind-the-scenes operators who increasingly are making the real decisions in the world, in their capacities as CEO's, consultants, special advisors, and so on. They drift from government to education to the private sector to think-tanks, often failing everywhere but sliding into a new and prestigious job. Larry Summers is the type: failed at the World Bank, failed at running Harvard (and not because of one remark, either), did a less-than-brilliant job in government, and yet is still powerful. The neoconservatives have similar records. So do the CEO's of the giant corporations, who are getting away with every imaginable crime--not only without being called to account, but not even being docked their 8-figure bonuses. So do countless other political and business operatives, left-wing, right-wing and center.
The real problem here is that these people are utterly unaccountable. They are not democratically elected. They are not dependent on the success of their endeavors. In business, they are CEO's, not bosses; old-fashioned bosses went down with their firms, but CEO's just go on to the next job. As TIME magazine reports the Goldman Sachs administrators saying, "I'll be gone, you'll be gone." In government, the same people are special advisors and consultants, not only unelected and unaccountable, but often serving both Democrats and Republicans indifferently. They can, and do, fail over and over again, taking whole countries down with them, and yet go right on. This is the real reason for the financial meltdown of 2008 and for its persistence today.
Only four stars, though, because this is a short (and somewhat rapidly written, occasionally repetitious) book. It could have gone much deeper into the history--in the United States, back to the 1870s and 1880s, when the country was run, de facto, by the robber barons (Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, the Big Four, and the rest of that gang). Shadow elites and flexnets are not new; what is new is their extreme power. This has resulted from downsizing government, and also from the explosive increase in subsidies, procurement, and other government support for firms. BP can get away with destroying the US south because it is not really a private firm; it is a British parastatal with American ties as well. ExxonMobil is essentially a parastatal also. From Halliburton to Monsanto to Goldman Sachs, the big firms do what they please and duly receive taxpayer support, bailouts, and so on, while avoiding oversight or regulation.
This is not "capitalism" and not really "socialism" either. It's closest (scarily) to Mussolini's original version of fascism: Government supports the big private firms and cracks down on anyone who doesn't like it. Eventually government and business fuse.
We are hearing no opposition to this from the right wing--indeed, they support it all, in spite of their insincere condemnations of "big government." The left (if there can be said to be a left today) is still locked in the illusion that we have "capitalism" and "free enterprise" and "neoliberalism." No, we don't. We have a shadow elite, a gang of non-accountable political operators who are devoted solely to keeping themselves on top, as the near-invisible powers behind the thrones and presidential chairs.
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