Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

Plutocrats Collage

Chrystia Freeland’s book titled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else is a perfect primer for anyone who is interested in learning about how today’s billionaires have put themselves in the positions of influencing financial and government systems.  The book begins with a crash course on how the Industrial Revolution produced an economic windfall for Western civilization and contributed to the incessant gap of wealth inequality that persists to this day.  Freeland also chronicles the emergence of the robber barons, the Long Depression which began in 1873, and how the poverty of those who lost out when the machines replaced their usefulness became a commonplace occurrence to label as “survival of the fittest.”

Plutocrats also makes mention of the wave of populism which has materialized in an attempt to check government spending and Wall Street corruption.  The Tea Party and the Occupy movement chiefly are cited as direct examples of this.  As the cries about the 99% and 1% rang out from protests across the country, the bigger issue, according to Freeland, was the battle between those in the top 10% to distance themselves from each other.  As Freeland explains, “The social gap isn’t just between the rich and the poor; it is between the super-rich and the merely wealthy (who may not feel quite so wealthy when they compare themselves with their super-successful peers).”

How did this happen?  Essentially, it happened the way it did when the Industrial Revolution started.  Only this time, it’s the Technology Revolution, coupled with the rise of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) markets that are experiencing their own Industrial Revolution and Technology Revolution at the same time.  All this amounts to business being done on a global level, American CEO’s just as likely to have been born out of the United States as within, American corporations shipping operations and jobs to other countries where the costs are lower, and the presence of a new global middle class with the money to buy American products (thus creating less pressure for American companies to operate domestically).  In short, the American middle class is being hallowed out to make room for a new global middle class.

This of course is encouraging news if you are one of the hundreds of million Chinese citizens who reportedly have been lifted out of poverty because of these two gilded ages occurring within the U.S. and China.  However, this news is less than encouraging if you live in Detroit, Michigan.

The personal stories of Tech entrepreneurs written about in Plutocrats help to give the reader an inside look at what it takes to compete in today’s global market and the socializing that underpins the world of the super-rich.  How they got the money, how they keep the money, what they do with the money and with whom they associate with are all of the fascinating questions answered in Freeland’s book.  The one unanswered question left up to all of us to resolve, is whether or not we can find a way to balance the capitalist dreams we all have to strike it rich with the reality of our deteriorating city skylines now drab with dire poverty.

© 2013

Ashtray (A Poem)

Ashtray

At the party

The package of Cloves

Tapped on

Topside down

Like a magic wand, on magician’s hat

Aesthetic, svelte, sleek, sophisticated, sole

Too pristine to corrupt with flame

Too potent to combine with matter on my brain

And the carton of Kools

Under the passenger seat

And the Bidis

The ones that leave vanilla on your lips

And cherry fragrance on your finger tips

For all of the intensity of the Clove’s biting, wrestling, undressing, confessing, painting,

protesting, investing, necking

And the Kool’s culture shock wave

And the Bidi’s vanilla and cherry

And the random Camel, American Spirit and Marlboro’s utility

After the swallow, punch-out, poem and orgasm

What remains

If anything at all

Is consistently

Without fire

And stubbed

And disregarded

For a spell

In an ashtray

© 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

The Wicked Witch of the West (Oil Pastels)

Quadlings, tinkers, and a china doll join the familiar cast of Munchkins, flying monkeys, and witches to conjure a tale of a conniving carnie named Oscar Diggs’ rise to power in Oz the Great and Powerful.  This prequel, of sorts, to the 1939 film titled The Wizard of Oz is based on works by L. Frank Baum who wrote the original book titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was published in 1900.

Oscar “Oz” Diggs (played by James Franco) begins his journey in Kansas as an unsuccessful carnival magician who pulls upon more strings attached to women’s hearts than upon rabbit ears from out of hats.  Oz yearns for greatness instead of the mediocrity he sees within his own existence.  He despises his assistants and highlights their faults by angrily shouting insults at them.  The sullen tears of a disabled girl (Joey King) who believes his powers will make it possible for her to walk again have no effect on him.  Even the news from Annie (Michelle Williams), his beloved girlfriend from years passed, that she has received a marriage proposal from another suitor, does not persuade him to choose the promise of fulfillment that stands in front of him, that of a family life, over his dubious prospect for prominence.  Enter the gale!

I will stop short of sounding a spoiler alert for all you stragglers out there who have not yet seen the movie.  Giving away the details of a story’s denouement is wholly unforgivable.  I’m still pissed off at the guy in front of me in line for Attack of the Clones who, talking to his buddy, loudly informed him and anyone else within an earshot that “Anakin gets his arm cut off in this one.”  Thanks Jerk!  But what I will say is that the extra few dollars to see the majestic Land of Oz in 3D is well worth it.  The classic corridor themed opening credits are equally phenomenal, as is the water-spewing river fairy which made me blink, the storm of raining spears which made me flinch, and the billowy entrance of the Wicked Witch of the West which made my inner child cower.

The Wizard of Oz has always been a character that I’ve struggled to view as favorable.  He is after all, a “humbug,” as the Scarecrow played by Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz put it.  The genius of Oz the Great and Powerful lies in its ability to convince us to trade the trickery for the ingenuity, and to overlook the dastardly for the stealthy.  With wicked witches in pursuit and the precious china in pieces, haggling over the would-be wizard’s virtuousness may not be the wisest course to take, depending on the seriousness of the character flaw in question and provided that he can indeed rid the land of the greater evil.  And of course, for all of his slyness, we do need the Wizard to rid the land of the greater evil.

But for all the genius Oz the Great and Powerful exudes, one thing it cannot do is replicate Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), Jack Haley (The Tin Man), Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion) and Terry (Toto) on the yellow brick road.  Though I’m told a sequel is in the works that may reprise The Wizard of Oz characters we all have grown to love over the years, nothing will ever compare to their songs.  The innocence of Judy Garland’s voice in Over the Rainbow, Ray Bolger’s whimsical If I Only Had a Brain, the tenderness of Jack Haley’s If I Only Had a Heart, and the hysteria of Bert Lahr’s If I Only Had the Nerve and If I Were King of the Forest are what I would have asked the Wizard for if I was a Hollywood director in Emerald City.

© 2013