This non-fiction economics type book is definitely not an apology for the top 1% of the 1%. Freeland, an economic journalist (Editor of Thomson Reuters Digital) has written a pretty unsparing look at the attitudes and lifestyles of the super-rich around the world, with a focus on the US.
About capitalism, in the words of Henry George (1839-1897): “Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others find it hard to get a living at all. The ‘tramp’ comes with the locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of ‘material progress’ as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied.”
This growing disparity is what Freeland explores in today’s world saying that the gap between rich and poor is greater than at any time since the Gilded Age (late 19th century – robber barons). She details how these top-enders self-made their billions in various ways depending on their countries and the availability of “rent-seeking” or living off the by-products of wealth creation – government contracts, privatization, personal contacts, banking and stock investments.
She also addresses how some of the super-elite spend their money, how many of them worry about politics, how they often don’t have a clue about the 99%, living as they do in their own plush little bubble. It would seem that unless you’re in top 10 of the super-elites, you’re likely to fiercely promote deregulation and the free market, be anti-tax and pro-business (they create jobs!)
Only those top 10 individual slots of wealth (not percent) can afford to be magnanimous – the rest apparently want more money (so they can have the private jet entourage to the private Greek island) and resent anyone or anything which stands in their way.
I was rather appalled at the top-notchers and their unabashed self-interest, but I don’t know why I should have been – I suppose it was the personal touch, hearing the words of some of them – the reality of their selfishness.
And it’s disturbing to think that we are indeed well on our way to an oligarchy wherein the super-rich guard the doors to upward mobility. It has NOT “always been this way.” The gap between rich and poor is enormous and although the route from poor to upper middle class is available, the route from upper-middle class to rich is being closed off and the road from rich to super-rich is about gone as these folks “tilt the rules of the game in their favor,” and shut off access by elites who are determined to maintain their hold on power and “tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top.”