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.