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 19th 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. Intelligently 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.
©2012 Chrystia Freeland (P)2012 Tantor
"Sobering, if we can grasp the implications." (Library Journal)
I purchased this book because I saw Chrystia doing an interview about the topic. Starts with a survey of plutocrats in the past to establish a basis for comparison but quickly devolves into an apologist's vantage of plutocrats and oligarchs, a trend that continues past half the book. I was a bit discouraged with the tone, but I decided to finish it. She finally returned to the tone I expected, albeit more politically correct and nuanced treatment than I would have liked.
As I listened to the audiobook version, I'll mention that the narrator did a good job reading the material, notwithstanding the mispronunciation of several words, most notably "specious" and employing the rendering of "conservatorship" with a long A vowel sound; this, whilst technically correct is awkward and uncommon, so perhaps an overly pedantic choice over the more typical pronunciation with a short A or schwa sound."
You may note a three-star rating for "overall' and four-star rating for "story' -- which may seem a bit backward. Well ...
the stories of the world's plutocrats are interesting ...
the analysis is ...
well, maybe it is me. Maybe I just do not understand the terminology being used. I am not a Harvard educated entitled elite -- I attended Rutgers University and the University of Minnesota. And maybe that is why I have a "normal" person's understanding of certain words -- like "liberalization."
To me, "liberal" refers to left leaning policies that lean toward socialism and away from free-market and business-positive policies. However, that is not how "liberalization" is used in this book.
Also, the author has spent decades reporting on the plutocrats, even attending some of the same meetings and conferences they attend. I think she identifies herself as one of them, to some degree, because she enjoys some of the same perks they do.
So, I find her analysis of the situation a bit "off" -- or so it seems to me.
Thankfully I had already listened to other books that touch on subjects mentioned here, so I wasn't lost when they were brought up and also could wonder at her analysis that seemed unaware of these other aspects of the events she refers to. One such book I would recommend is How I Caused the Credit Crunch -- An Insider's Story of the Financial Meltdown by Tetsuya Ishikawa (who worked for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and ABN AMRO); it describes quite well the truly weird financial instruments and the huge bonuses financiers were making on their sale that led to the financial melt-down -- an understanding one probably needs to understand the basis for the wealth of the lower portion of the 1% ... the so-called "working rich" Freeland refers to in PLUTOCRATS.
And a second negative -- not just of the book but of how many people (economists, at least, talk this way) think -- is the idea that making people "richer" or that increasing their income is actually a measure of progress. Well, I did not state that properly. I mean, to compare the daily wage of someone in China in dollars with an American factory worker's daily wage -- is stupid. Yes, I agree that a daily income of about $2 versus whatever an American makes a day is hugely disparate. But a more honest indicator would be an indication of the daily wage set against a cost-of-living index. Give me those kinds of stats to make your point. Don't just tell me you are making people richer. Though it is a novel, the second or third of Tarquin Hall's "Vish Puri" novels will tell you about the disparity the new wealth is causing -- and imply that this new wealth is causing inflation of prices and introduction of products most Indians cannot afford, and statistics comparing the median income against cost of living just might show that the "making people richer" line is perhaps not true ... ?
Now, having given you my "negative" views -- I do recommend the book, but only if set among other books on similar topics and subjects for a broader view of the analysis. I did learn a lot, though, about how Plutocrats think, where they've come from and some of their influence. Therefore, I do recommend this book with slight reservation. :-)
The narrator is very good except for a few words that were mispronounced. Overall, the narrator does an excellent job.
I think it's a good book to be read not listened to because of the volume of information and details.
Freeland offers an interesting opportunity to see and to experience the worldview of the super rich and the ultra influential both past and present. As the influence of the uber wealthy increases and the world's plutocrats increasingly answer to nobody beyond their inner circle, this book proves particularly timely.
Ryan has a nice voice, but her frequent mispronunciations detracted from her narration and made me question whether or not she understood what she was reading. I would imagine that the job of a narrator would include learning the meanings and correct pronunciations of any unfamiliar words.
“Plutocrats” is one of the most appropriate books of the 2012 area. It deeply reveals the inequalities in our society. Far from been a critic of plutocracy, I find the book to be more of a window into the world of plutocrats. I couldn’t say that I’ve learned how to become wealthy in this book but, I can definitely say that it increased my understanding of their bubble. I would have loved Chrystia to talk a little bit about her and how she got access to all the plutocrats she interviewed.
If you are drawn to the topic, it is an interesting read
Just how "rich" rich people are
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