Life Among the Plutocrats — What Unimaginable Wealth Does to a Person
Last year the Occupy movement brought the subject of inequality into public debate, and especially the inequality between those of us in the 99 per cent and the happy few in the one per cent. But Chrystia Freeland has been studying the happy few for years, and has spent many hours talking with some of their most famous and powerful members.
The result is a book full of surprises and insights. Today’s plutocrats are the latest variation on an old theme, and at the same time they’re strikingly new in many ways.
This is just one form of plutocratic “rent-seeking” — getting one’s businesses into a monopoly position, or lowering their operational costs, through favourable legislation. Every business, after all, wants to improve its own working conditions, just as every worker does.
But what is good for one’s business is not always good for the country. Rent-seeking simply runs up the plutocrats’ revenues while doing nothing for their customers. And it never occurs to such plutocrats that their success ultimately stems from the system created and maintained by the rest of society. As Barack Obama observed, “You didn’t build that.”
Perhaps the Chinese have the only way to limit the plutocracy. As Freeland says, “China’s plutocrats don’t fight the state because they are the state — and when any of them forget that, they are treated with summary brutality: between 2003 and 2011, at least 14 Chinese billionaires were executed.”