Sunday, March 23, 2008

Superclass-- David Rothkopf-- Review

Superclass The Global Power Elite And The World They Are Making by David Rothkopf is about the elite of the elite; the 6,000 or so most influential people in the world. According to Mr. Rothkopf, they are one in a million. He is writing about people like Rupert Murdoch, George Bush, Ayman Al Zwahiri, Bill Clinton, Shih Zenrong, and others. Where it breaks down a bit is the comparison of terrorists and other criminals with regular businessmen. The book can be too expansive at times.

The book is not a complete indictment of the rich and powerful. It does give considerable criticism of the current power of the elites. I think at points, the author is holding back because he is a member of this class; he was the managing director of Kissinger Associates and works for the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace. He also goes to many of the meetings which he describes like the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

He does have some very interesting criticism. The main point he makes is about something called "illiberal democray", a two part system originating in Latin America of a rich corporate class with a very small middle class, and a huge underclass. The author is describing how the elites are coming into competition with the middle and working class and cutting the heart out of countries like the United States. He says that income distribution is becoming increasingly inequitable all over the world. It seems the United States is becoming more like Brazil, Mexico, and Russia with extremes of wealth and income distribution.

He further talks about how the IMF and the World Bank are spreading the inequitable distribution. These economic bodies gives loans and support to two groups, very large corporations, and to the poor. There is almost no money distributed in a way that encourages entrepreneurship, creates mechanisms for loans to small and medium size businesses, and provides for business counseling to the middle and working class. Small and medium size businesses and institutions are where the majority of people in the developed world work.

We get a picture of an elite who want exclusive access to each other with private clubs and shared interests. For example Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group is on the board of the New York Public Library, the New York City Ballet, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the New York City Partnership. This forges ties with other elites and creates a kind of exclusive power club. David Rothkopf also paints a picture of an elite that go to the top twenty schools focusing on Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. With the emerging superclass of information technology it is Stanford and MIT. Stanford is where the CEOs of Google and Yahoo came from.

Personally, I am glad that I will never fall into a superclass. Being one of those who are insignificant in the totality of things is often a blessing. I rather like being comfortable. I also went to what would be the opposite of an elite school for my undergraduate degree UC Santa Cruz.

There is an increasing tension between national elites and international elites. There is no longer a sense of doing business in just one country; now business goes where it is cheapest and easiest. Location for the powerful has been reduced with private jets. They can go easily wherever it is convenient leaving borders behind. This creates tensions between nationalists like Ahminejad in Iran, Putin in Russia, and Chavez in Venezuela who are angry about how the order has left their countries in a power vacuum.

David Rothkopf breaks the world into the globalists and the anti-globalists; those who want globalization and those who don't. I think this is incorrect. I don't think that people don't want trade, they just want fair trade and the chance to move ahead in the world.

Joseph Stiglitz who wrote Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development and other people who offer hope for a better world order like Muhammad Yunus who wrote Creating A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism are not mentioned as part of this book. The fundamental underlying difference in both Yunus and Stiglitz's work is that it creates a middle class, small business class, and a working class. It is not just a poverty alleviation program.

The author posits that two people are the main model for the modern power elite, John D. Rockefeller who founded Standard Oil and Andrew Carnegie. I have mixed feelings about Carnegie, our building, built in 1903 where I work is a Carnegie building. He helped build a tremendous amount for libraries. He was also a heavy handed union buster and an innovative steel magnate. Standard Oil is the father of Exxon and is the reason the energy industry is so powerful today.

If these two people are really the ideal people for the elite, it will lead us into great conflict in the future. We are already seeing some of the fruits of what he calls "superclass" ideology. Charles Wilson in 1944 created the idea of a "permanent war economy" to keep the American economy in leadership position. This helped forge the rationale for strong ties between the United States military and private corporations. And, ultimately it has led to the privatization of the military as well, with Blackwater and other private companies in Iraq. We have not seen a "praetorian guard" for the rich, but some of the larger private military companies are looking to become exactly that in my opinion.

At the end of the book in the last chapter, he brings out the old bugaboo of creating new and better institutions, with the classic Woodrow Wilson ideal of a New World Order. This is the most dangerous of ideologies in my opinion. In 1917, Woodrow Wilson, spoke about creating a New World Order with the ideal of the League of Nations. This led to World War II. Every time the idea of a New World Order is announced a major war or calamity happens. It was shortly after Bush's speech on a New World Order that we had 9/11/2001. There is no need for conspiracy theories. The League of Nations is the model for the United Nations which is in many ways, a very ineffective institutions.

This book covers a huge amount of material. Probably too much material. There is material on the religious elites, elite social clubs like the masons, skull and bones, Davos, and the Bohemian Grove. I only touched on some of the subjects in the book. There is also a brief section on how one becomes a member of the superclass. If you are interested in power and the powerful, this book is quite entertaining.

There are no illustrations or photographs in the book which I would have liked. The book has a 31 page bibliography, and a separate index. It is very thoroughly researched. The writing is very dense with information. Each paragraph says something. There is no fluff in this writing.


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Greg Cameron said...

David Rothkkopf's "Superclass" is informative in the sense that it is valuable as pure information. However, I have to admit I find this book essentially loathsome. While Rothkopf sees some problems with globalization(most notably environmental problems and also, 'dislocations'...Clinton-clique speak for social misery). You'll notice that Rothkopf quite unreservedly plugs the 'Washington Consensus' in this book. Significantly, he doesn't explain what that means for the innocent reader. What it means is that regardless of what one pretends on the home front, it's undiluted Republicanism for the rest of the world. How does he propose to deal with the 'dislocations' of globalization? He talks vaguely here about 'opportunities' - this is, of course, pure business-speak. Of course, providing 'opportunities' is not the same thing as providing help. This is just the same old Social Darwinism of free enterprise. As William F. Buckley once so long ago said to a Bohemian Club audience, without a large number of failures there won't be a reasonable rate of success. So much for 'opportunities.' The man devotes an inordinate amount of time to conspiracy nonsense and some of this information is wrong outright. For example, Rothkopf calls CounterPunch(a website devoted to political people largely associated with a Chomsky line of thought) is a conspiracy website. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Don't take my word for it. And, by God, don't take Rothkopft's word for it. Go to the CounterPunch website and see what is there for yourself. And draw your own conclusions. I suggest Rothkopf read Chomsky, who at all points dismisses conspiracy theories as uneconomical explanations of facts and essentially diversionary in nature. Rothkopf seems to think the Superclass deserves to be on top, as it were. The cream rises to the top and all that. This is elitism outright. And if you're not part of the elite, you might ask yourself this - what does all this hold for me? Amusingly, Rothkopf quotes Joseph Siglitz as saying,"You don't need to have a conspiracy once you have set the rules." Indeed. There you have it in a nutshell. While Rothkopf's book is a lively read, in the final analysis I regard his thought as part of the problem and not part of the solution. Cordially...Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada