Review: Superclass–The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making

4 Star, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)

SuperclassDoes Not Name Names or Illustrate Networks, March 29, 2008

David Rothkopf

I grew up in the 1970’s studying multinational corporations and inter-locking directorates, reading Richard Barnett’s Global Reach, and so on. I am also familiar with the $60,000 a year special database that charts the top dogs and every membership, association, investment, etc.

The two major deficiencies in this book that left me disappointed are:

1. Does not name names nor show network diagrams such as you can pull from Silobreaker.com (Factiva is not even close).

2. Shows no appreciation for past research and findings. This is a current overview, closer to journalism than to authorship or research.

The book earns four stars instead of three for two reasons:

1. There is a very subtle but crystal-clear sense of goodness, ethics, and “good intention” or “right thinking” by the author. As diplomatic as he might be, he clearly sees the insanity of Exxon refusing to think about anything other than maximizing petroleum while externalizing $12 in costs for every $3.50 gallon that they sell–they did NOT “earn” $40 billion in profit this past year–they essentially stole it from the population at large and future generations).

2. Each chapter has a serious point or series of points, and I especially liked the author’s constant presentation of tangible numbers on virtually every page.

Having said all that, I will list two books below that I found more interesting than this one, and then list a few notes that made it to my flyleafs.

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich
All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make–and Spend–Their Fortunes

Notes from the book:

6,000 top people (in total of 6 billion, I think that’s .0001–the author, who’s no doubt better at math, says each is 1 in a million)

Top 1,000 rich own as much or earn as much as the bottom 2.5 billion poor.

Early on he says he decided not to do a list because it changes. I believe him, but I was truly disappointed to not find a lot of meat in this book–it has facts, anecdotes, a story line, but one does not get the “feeling in the fingertips” or the raw feel.

Early on he reviews and dismisses conspiracy theories, and returns to this in the final chapter where he reviews the Masons, Bohemian Grove, Skull and Bones, all in a cursory manner (for example, there is no table, a single page would do, of top Skull and Bones power figures today).

Power is shifting away from Nations. This is true. The author focuses on those who have money and live globally. He is not focusing on those who control their own spending, global assemblages. For that see
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs
Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems

Human interactions are the glue connects the superclass members–corridor meetings that take place on the periphery of “big events” where the important stuff is not the event, but the encounters–Davos, World Cup, Grand Prix, Allen & Co, Geneva Auto Show, Winter Olympics, the Chinese meeting on Hainan Island (the Boao Forum).

Corporate/Finance the top of the barrel, 2000 top organizations control $103 trillion in assets, do $27 trillion in annual sales.

Access/time is the most precious asset, one reason the Gulf Stream is really a solid indicator of top of the top–it provides time saved, mobility, flexibility, privacy, security, work en route, sleep well, etc.

The author tells us he is focusing on influence, not just wealth or accomplishments, but very candidly, while the book is coherent and there is nothing wrong with its facts or sequence of observations, one simply does not come away with a clear picture. This is like a verbal description of a trip around the world, which it is, but without the photos, smells, tastes, etc. It also avoids any substantive (as opposed to discreetly moral “in passing” commentary) attention to costs and consequences–a balance sheet showing choices being made (e.g. by Exxon) and who benefits, who loses, would no doubt terminate this author’s welcome on the fringes of the super-elite as it would be devastatingly negative.

20-50 people control any given sector, worldwide

In the book the author seeks to discuss six central issues:

1. Nature of the superclass power

2. Link if any (ha ha) between concentrated wealth and the five billion at the bottom of the pyramid

3. Whether the superclass calls into question the sufficiency of our global legal and governance institutions

4. Whether the division in interests between the rich and the poor will be the central conflict of our time

5. Would we choose this superclass?

6. How is the superclass evolving

General conclusions:

Markets not working fully, need some non-market “controlling authority”

Elites are not taking responsibility for the poor in their own countries

Meritocracy is no longer–same merit, one becomes a billionaire from connections, the other a mere millionaire

Private equity is where its at in terms of starting salaries in the $300,000 range.

Globalists versus nationalist

Anti-globalists include leaders of Iran, Russia, and Venezuela

Tottering institutions–International Monetary Fund may not be funded by countries much longer

Global military-to-military relations work, political-diplomatic do not, and the money is mis-spent (billions here and there, and no money for spare parts to keep air forces flying, much cheaper good will spending)

Criminal elite a part of this (read Moises Naim’s book Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy

USA has a power vacuum in that both the President and Congress have taken power that is not theirs and abused it, but the US voter has ceded power by failing to understand and deliberate on the issues.

He surprises me by bing familiar with General Smedley Butler’s book, War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier

Two coolest sentences in the book for me:

“Most dangerous mind-altering substance on earth is oil.”

“Cost is simply not caring.” (Corporations that enrich dictators while ignoring the billions whose commonwealth is being stolen). For more on this evil and how the USA supports 42 of 44 dictators, see Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025

There is nothing in this book, published in 2008, on Sovereign Wealth Funds, nor does the author focus on dictators and “royalty” as part of the superclass. As Lawrence Lessig has noted, end corruption, end scarcity, begin a true harvesting of the common wealth for the common good. Right now we are all where “Animal Farm” put us–fodder for the wealthy.

The publisher’s choice of ink colors for the jacket flaps and rear cover is terrible, those portions of the book are difficult to read.

The book is over-sold: “draws back the curtain on a privileged society.” Not really. This is a solid book of facts that is as close to bland and generic and inoffensive as one can get–but then, that was probably the author’s intent since he wants to be able to see these people again…..

See also
The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future – and What It Will Take to Win It Back

For a direct opposite of this book, seek out books on Collective Intelligence, Wisdom Councils, World Cafe, Social Entrepreneurship, All Rise, Power Governments Cannot Suppress, and so on. We live in interesting times.