BY AGNES POMATA
THE BOTTOM LINE: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland, can be a bit of a slog, but there are a few extremely important trends that she describes that are well worth the time and effort.
Near the end of the 19th century the plutocrats ruled. During our country’s first Gilded Age, the rich got much richer, and the poor got poorer. Although the industrialists indeed moved civilization forward, so that most everyone was better off for the advances, the divide between the top two percent and everyone else could not be tolerated. The Progressive Era addressed government corruption and workers rights, and began a raising of the middle class. This time around, in our global economy, the US has entered a second gilded age, while emerging countries like India and China are enjoying their first gilded age.
Along with CEO’s of major companies, the wealthy have become those predominantly Ivy Leaguers who moved from Harvard to Wall Street and the technology entrepreneurs. Freeland points out that more of the wealth created today is in the hands of those who did not come from wealth. And they are less likely to see themselves as belonging to one country; rather, they consider themselves to be multinationals. So it appears that, rather than concern over the lower standard of living that stagnant wages and unemployment has brought to the US, they congratulate themselves on the higher standard of living they are bringing to the once poor in India and China. And, of course, believe they are deserving of their great wealth for having taken the risk that created the new growth.
We have heard a lot lately about the differences between the 2 percent and the 98 percent, or the one percent and the 99 percent. Interestingly, Freeland believes there may be a more important gap between the 1 percent and the .1 percent. Those who are “merely millionaires” may be fostering resentment toward those above them, envious of the places they will not be admitted because of their lesser financial worth. Perhaps ironic, but because they hold more power than the rest of us, it may be this group that may spur on the greatest rebellion against the .01 percent.
This book raises far more questions than it answers, but these are new questions for a new global economy, and need to be addressed.
Agnes Pomata is a retired psychologist who blogs at The Ironic Cherry.