Plutocrats

The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012)
Plutocrats book cover cover

The short version: This informative book should appeal to supporters of both wealthy job creators and 99%-ers, as well as anyone interested in current events or the way money shapes our world.

Chrystia's Freeland's Plutocrats surprised me--I was fascinated by her analysis of how the super rich came to be, how their actions are shoring up their position, how they think about wealth and the less wealthy, and how they affect the rest of us. But I was most impressed and surprised by Freeland's commitment to producing an unbiased text. That's not to say there isn't a bias--a major point of the book is that the growing income inequality in the US is bad for the US, especially the middle class--but this isn't an opinion piece. She neither mocks the wealthy, nor plays the part of Robin Leach taking us into their fabulous lives.

Freeland pulls a wealth of history (US political and economic policy history, global economic development history, etc.) and economic theory (everyone from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman and current academics) into the story of how the global super rich came to be. And it's not just the risky entrepreneurs who were in the right place at the right time, like the Indian founders of InfoSys who were faced with a growing class of English-speaking educated people who could provide over the phone tech support for a much lower price than workers in developed countries. One chapter covers superstars, including investors, musicians, and chefs, and the premiums they command from those who can afford hiring them for private party performances (like the banker birthday party appearance by Elton John).

As I mentioned, her commitment to balance is amazing. She includes quotes from plutocrats arguing that the outsourcing of American jobs to developing countries is a good thing because it will help create a global middle class, while maintaining in her conclusion that income inequality--both in the US and overseas--is harmful politically and economically to those at the bottom. This timely, well-researched and expertly written documentary of a global movement would appeal to anyone interested in current events and economic issues. Readers looking for a partisan piece--supporting the job-creating super-rich or struggling 99%-ers--could learn quite a bit from reading this, but be disappointed in its lack of evidence-less claims and charged rhetoric.

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