The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
By Chrystia Freeland
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594204098, 336pp.)
Publication Date: October 11, 2012
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A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
Winner of the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize
There has always been some gap between rich and poor in this country, but in the last few decades what it means to be rich has changed dramatically. Alarmingly, the greatest income gap is not between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, but within the wealthiest 1 percent of our nation--as the merely wealthy are left behind by the rapidly expanding fortunes of the new global super-rich. Forget the 1 percent; Plutocrats proves that it is the wealthiest 0.1 percent who are outpacing the rest of us at break-neck speed.
What’s changed is more than numbers. Today, most colossal fortunes are new, not inherited--amassed by perceptive businessmen who see themselves as deserving victors in a cut-throat international competition. As a transglobal class of successful professionals, today’s self-made oligarchs often feel they have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Bringing together the economics and psychology of these new super-rich, Plutocrats puts us inside a league very much of its own, with its own rules.
The closest mirror to our own time is the late nineteenth century Gilded Age--the era of powerful robber barons’ like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Then as now, emerging markets and innovative technologies collided to produce unprecedented wealth for more people than ever in human history. Yet those at the very top benefited far more than others--and from this pinnacle they exercised immense and unchecked power in their countries. Today’s closest analogue to these robber barons can be found in the turbulent economies of India, Brazil, and China, all home to ferocious market competition and political turmoil. But wealth, corruption, and populism are no longer constrained by national borders, so this new Gilded Age is already transforming the economics of the West as well. Plutocrats demonstrates how social upheavals generated by the first Gilded Age may pale in comparison to what is in store for us, as the wealth of the entire globalized world is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
Cracking open the tight-knit world of the new global super-rich is Chrystia Freeland, an acclaimed business journalist who has spent nearly two decades reporting on the new transglobal elite. She parses an internal Citigroup memo that urges clients to design portfolios around the international Plutonomy” and not the national rest”; follows Russian, Mexican, and Indian oligarchs during the privatization boom as they manipulate the levers of power to commandeer their local economies; breaks down the gender divide between the vast female-managed middle class’ and the world’s one thousand billionaires; shows how, by controlling both the economic and political institutions of their nation, the richest members of China’s National People’s Congress have amassed more wealth than every branch of American government combined--the president, his cabinet, the justices of the Supreme Court, and both houses of Congress.
Though the results can be shocking, Freeland dissects the lives of the world’s wealthiest individuals with empathy, intelligence, and deep insight. Brightly written, powerfully researched, and propelled by fascinating original interviews with the plutocrats themselves, Plutocrats is a tour-de-force of social and economic history, and the definitive examination of inequality in our time.
CHRYSTIA FREELAND is the Editor of Thomson Reuters Digital, following years of service at the Financial Times both in New York and London. She was the deputy editor of Canada’s The Globe and Mail and has reported for the Financial Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post. Freeland’s last book was Sale of a Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution. She lives in New York City.
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