Chrystia Freeland Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
Indeed the new global super-rich, the world's top one per cent, is not a bad club to join if you can. In
Her style is jaunty, almost racy, as she dances lightly through income statistics, international conferences and much else that would bring a lesser prose stylist down. Here the well-placed vignette, often the naive but revealing boasts of a newly minted plutocrat, keeps the pace moving. There is no mistaking her serious purpose, however, which is to chart an economic and social phenomenon that poses real threats to cohesion and any notion of fairness in the world.
Freeland is at her most interesting when she discusses how people join the plutocrats' club. The first route is the straightforward one of having a good idea and executing it better than anybody else in the age of globalization. In the past, if your market was
If there is a catch, it lies in the other entry route to the club: corrupt influence and access in a home market that allows national champions to grow behind the protective walls of trade barriers. The author describes examples in
That is the political Achilles heel of the new rich: much of their money was made not on the open fields of global competition but in smoke-filled back rooms. As Freeland says,
There is a real question about how sustainable these new fortunes are. Many are being shipped overseas to spread risk as political patrons pass on and can no longer protect business friends. Once abroad, a global lifestyle, sharing neighbourhoods in
Yet in the over-bearing social and political behaviour of many Plutocrats anxious to hold on to what they have may lie the seeds of their downfall.
There is a growing anger across the world about economic inequality and in many countries against its perceived handmaiden, corruption. Whether in the increasing number of protests now reported in
A Spectator journalist recently complained, on behalf of old elites, about new money taking over their clubs and sporting events such as
Indeed, if Freeland's plutocrats hang on it will not be because they win wider acceptance but because the world cannot find a way of stripping them of their gains. They have often structured their wealth above the nation so the tax inspector no longer knows how to find them. When he does, they often seem to quickly escape his grip by moving tax jurisdiction or claiming non-Dom status.
In truth, the answer to rebuilding a fairer world may lie less in punitive taxes and more in spreading the benefits of education, particularly affordable high-quality university education, and the hard and soft infrastructures of roads, communications, accountable public institutions and the rule of law, allowing a broader group a bite at the cherry.
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