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Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making [Paperback]

David Rothkopf
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 3 2009
Each of them is one in a million. They number six thousand on a planet of six billion. They run our governments, our largest corporations, the powerhouses of international finance, the media, world religions, and, from the shadows, the world's most dangerous criminal and terrorist organizations. They are the global superclass, and they are shaping the history of our time.
 
Today's superclass has achieved unprecedented levels of wealth and power. They have globalized more rapidly than any other group. But do they have more in common with one another than with their own countrymen, as nationalist critics have argued? They control globalization more than anyone else. But has their influence fed the growing economic and social inequity that divides the world? What happens behind closeddoor meetings in Davos or aboard corporate jets at 41,000 feet? Conspiracy or collaboration? Deal-making or idle self-indulgence? What does the rise of Asia and Latin America mean for the conventional wisdom that shapes our destinies? Who sets the rules for a group that operates beyond national laws?
 
Drawn from scores of exclusive interviews and extensive original reporting, Superclass answers all of these questions and more. It draws back the curtain on a privileged society that most of us know little about, even though it profoundly affects our everyday lives. It is the first in-depth examination of the connections between the global communities of leaders who are at the helm of every major enterprise on the planet and control its greatest wealth. And it is an unprecedented examination of the trends within the superclass, which are likely to alter our politics, our institutions, and the shape of the world in which we live.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Books on world elites tend to focus on the superwealthy, but political scholar Rothkopf (Running the World) has written a serious and eminently readable evaluation of the superpowerful. Until recent decades, great-power governments provided most of the superclass, accompanied by a few heads of international movements (i.e., the pope) and entrepreneurs (Rothschilds, Rockefellers). Today, economic clout—fueled by the explosive expansion of international trade, travel and communication—rules. The nation state's power has diminished, according to Rothkopf, shrinking politicians to minority power broker status. Leaders in international business, finance and the defense industry not only dominate the superclass, they move freely into high positions in their nations' governments and back to private life largely beyond the notice of elected legislatures (including the U.S. Congress), which remain abysmally ignorant of affairs beyond their borders. The superelites' disproportionate influence over national policy is often constructive, but always self-interested. Across the world, the author contends, few object to corruption and oppressive governments provided they can do business in these countries. Neither hand-wringing nor worshipful, this book delivers an unsettling account of what the immense and growing power of this superclass bodes for the future. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Whether you like it or not, there is no way to deny the enormous, disproportionate, concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of people in the world today.  David Rothkopf has vividly described who they are, and how they operate and interact, in his valuable (and often disturbing) new book.”   —Richard Holbrooke, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

“No, no vast conspiracy runs the world. But, according to Rothkopf’s book, a tiny but diverse global elite, a Superclass, comes close. His finely-honed prose takes the reader on a joyous, entertaining, and erudite romp around the globe in search of that class.” —Alan Blinder, Former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States

“Thanks to Rothkopf’s special blend of analysis, direct interaction with his subjects and vivid writing, this is a must read book for people interested in understanding the genesis of leadership in the new global economy.”   —Ernesto Zedillo, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and Former President of Mexico

“David Rothkopf has written a super book about the people presently executing an historic shift of world economic and political power and about how they are doing it and why. If you want to know how your choices are being determined and the circumstances of your life conditioned, you must read this book.” —Clyde Prestowitz, President of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of Three Billion New Capitalists

“The activities of a growing cosmopolitan elite are having profound effects. They can be highly desirable when they promote international cooperation or more problematic when the interests of the elites diverge from those of their citizens. David Rothkopf’s Superclass skillfully probes these issues and many more and should be read by all those concerned with the international economy and the evolving global system.”  —Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

“Superclass is a timely and detailed analysis of the disproportionate power and hence responsibility of an incredibly small group of individuals: the global power elites whose strongest allegiances are not with their countries but with each other.  Understanding the implications of this shift beyond the nation-state is of great importance and Rothkopf has made a significant first step.”   —Bob Wright, Vice Chairman, General Electric, and former President and CEO, NBC Universal

“An entertaining and well researched taxonomy of the rich and powerful who shape foreign policy and business in our globalized world. Rothkopf gives us the story behind Davos Man." —Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and author of Making Globalization Work and Globalization and its Discontents

“A masterful portrait of this century’s global elite: who they are, how they run the world, and why you should worry about the increasing concentration of influence, wealth and power they represent. An insider and a globalizer himself, Rothkopf knows his people and his politics, and uses history, psychology, economics and a lot of awfully good stories to ask troubling new questions about globalization as we know it. It’s smart and it’s fun. And if you are a globophile who trusts greater prosperity and stability to disinterested markets, it will make you think again.”     —Nancy Birdsall, President, Center for Global Development

“In his lively and brilliantly written book Superclass, David Rothkopf has captured the multitude and density of cross-border connections and interactions among the influential, rich and famous throughout the world. He compellingly describes how those links are shaping the global economic and political landscape today—and how they will powerfully influence the future institutions and politics of our planet.”   —Robert Hormats, Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs (International) and author of The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Wave of Economic Elitism to Contend With May 19 2008
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In "Superclass" David Rothkopf describes a world where political, economically and socially the rules of engagement are changing rapidly. An unbridled form of capitalism that encourages the accumulation of wealth for the benefit of the few is now forming the international order by which business is conducted. National agendas that were meant to take care of the underclasses of society are now being supplanted by the force of globalization: worldwide trade in a myriad of financial investments that benefit corporations rather than individuals. What distills from this process is a superclass, or an elite within an elite group of multi-billionaires, who is currently sitting on so much wealth while other groups around them suffer from lack of basic essentials or rising food prices. It is this crowd of restless patricians and fearful power-brokers that trek off to Davos every year to wine and dine over how to make the world a better place to be. Not surprisingly, Rothkopf, the career technocrat, has earned his way into this class because of his intellectual capacity to advise it how to adjust to changing times. This book is worth the read for what Rothkopf maps out as the likely path of international development and progress in the future. He succeeds in identifying the superclass as the excessive accumulators of wealth and wielders of power and influence; he follows up with easy-to-follow explanations as to the upside and downside to this phenomenon; and he concludes by showing where discussion and cooperation might be going in the effort to give capitalism a moral conscience that benefits others than just the well-heeled. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
277 of 299 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does Not Name Names or Illustrate Networks March 29 2008
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
109 of 120 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Worshipful (2.5 *s) April 8 2008
By J. Grattan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The essential fact to understand going into this book is that the author is a former employee of Kissinger's firm dealing with international issues and now has his own business that provides advice to the very people of whom he writes. As a consequence, this book is hardly a critique of the global elite; it's more on the line of "I understand who you are, your needs, your thinking, and your contributions to the world order." It seems as though previous reviewers are unconcerned with the author's overly respectful stance.

The author invokes C. Wright Mill's THE POWER ELITE mostly as a device to demonstrate that he has escaped Mill's narrow US focus and his concerns for the disenfranchisement of average citizens. In fact, the author makes quite clear that the global order would suffer tremendously if global elites, mostly corporate and financial sector CEOs, could not hobnob almost 24/7, whether it be in exclusive meeting places like Davos, Switzerland, or from expensive jets equipped with only the most advanced communications devices, away from opposing viewpoints. He suggests that merely knowing that powerful people are ordering our world is comforting in the same sense as religion.

The author does not identify his six thousand global elites, claiming shifting membership as well as an arbitrary cutoff, but he emphasizes their power and/or influence. Money alone does not gain admittance. The author gives short shrift to "the world they are making." He acknowledges that global elites are for the most part very self-interested, which obviously impacts their efforts to make the world. The author notes the charitable organizations of the elites, but fails to fully appreciate the mere tokenism of such efforts. The fact that global business at this time basically transcends national and citizen control is of minimal concern to the author and is regarded as an inevitable form of world order.

This author is the wrong man to write a book concerning the rise of global elites and their impact on governance, the environment, citizen empowerment, etc. They are not necessarily the best and the brightest. Many are simply well-connected. Contrary to the author, there is no necessity for this form of global elite to exist. It may be a slower process, but empowered citizens can form international bodies to deal with all global issues important to mankind, including the power of global corporations and the manipulations of financial firms. It's books like this that reveal how elites really feel about democracy. It's a buzz word that attempts to hide the real structure of plutocracy. Mills is far more prescient.
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Anatomy of Davos Man April 18 2008
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was drawn to this book by the lavish endorsements on its back cover. If eminent persons such as a former head of state, a top government official, a senior business leader, a Nobel-prize winner in economics, and the head of an influential think-tank in Washington could extend such praise to a book that is basically a book about themselves, then I needed no further proof that the book was relevant to the topic it was addressing.

But reading David Rothkopf' Superclass was, in the end, a disappointment, and the book fell short of my expectations. To be sure, the author is well connected, he has done some research on the who's who in international affairs, and he writes in an engaging, easy-to-read style. But he does not strike the right balance between critical distance and adherence to his subject-matter, and he remains either too close or too disengaged from the world that he is describing.

Rothkopf has neither the broad perspective of an academic who puts his subject into context and adopts critical lenses to assess its social and political implications, nor the narrow focus of a practitioner who would draw practical lessons from his analysis to address pressing global problems. Neither insider nor outsider, he is more like the devoted fan who came to the party to see the celebrities and who is happy with rubbing shoulders and exchanging a few words with famous people.

The author quotes many interviews that he had with members of the global power elite. These interviews add a cachet of exclusivity to the book and prove that the author has had access to a wide array of powerful people (it is not clear whether the interviews were made in the process of researching the book or as news articles published in the several magazines that the author edited.) But these quotations, reproduced in oral style and narrowly framed by the author's questions, are often dumbed down versions of what the same people have stated more eloquently in books, articles, or lectures.

The book, which quotes many sources, could also have benefited from more references to scholarly debates. The academic studies that are mentioned, such as research on the increase in top income concentration and wealth inequalities, are presented in a very concise manner and some important contributions, such as recent research on CEO compensation, are not mentioned at all. A little bit of editing could also have eliminated some egregious mistakes and overstatements: who would believe, for instance, that the so-called Ten Commandments for Drivers promulgated in 2007 by the Vatican have the effect of law on the daily lives of more than one billion Catholics in the world, as is alleged on p. 41?

Perhaps the biggest revelation in the book is that there is no big secret, no hidden conspiracy or world-wide shadow organization running the show. As Rothkopf concludes, "the individuals who take part in these institutions and who participate in certain elite events, clubs and conferences and casual dinners, probably do not have secret designs for world domination, but most likely do have common interests." They are agenda-setters, not conspirators, and power remains elusive. The most amusing quote I found was the remark of a disgruntled Davos participant who, like the teenager complaining that the really cool party must be someplace else, noted: "you always feel like you are in the wrong place in Davos, like there is some better meeting going on elsewhere in one of the hotels that you really ought to be at. Like the real Davos is happening in secret somewhere."
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware of the false messenger Feb. 3 2010
By Wal Elnour - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a fervent follower of the globalization debate I like to maintain an objective view of both sides of the arguement, hence I borrowed this book from a friend in order to perhaps gain a better understanding of the culture and dynamics of the "superclass". However, it did not take me much time to gauge the direction in which this book was heading but nevertheless I kept on reading until I had finished it.

So, my verdict? At best this book adorns and justifies the existence of such an elite "superclass" as a natural evolution of mankind. At worst this is but a verbose and meandering volume of sychophantic drivel that panders to the elites and relegates the rest of humanity to the role of an ignorant and helpless herd of sheep.

Much like Squealer in Orwell's Animal Farm, Mr Rothkopf attempts in vain to elucidate at great lengths what makes these individuals special and why they should be entrusted to carry our species forward towards much prosperity and development. However, what he fails to address in detail (despite his agreement that many of these individuals and corporations carry more clout than most nation states) how the rest of humanity will be better off by taking the backseat and letting these megalomaniacs (he himself rather admits to that fact) take to the wheel. All he adduces for support is the standard trickle-down economics hogwash advocated by adherents of free-market capitalism and the hope that one day, we ourselves might one day join the ranks of the "superclass" (Small print: You must be a white male, belong to an elite family, be a middle aged-old fart, attend an elite western university, have inherited or created a sizeable fortune, network with the rich and powerful, be a high-ranking member or owner of a global corporation)

Mr Rothkopf has no qualms that this "superclass", unlike national governments have no accountability whatsoever towards the common man, but rather they are only accountable to their own shareholders and bank accounts. They are they elected by no people, yet reap most of the benefits generated by the common man's labour and pillaging of OUR resources. Most interestingly, he firmly adheres to the notion that these superclasses who transcend national governments should remain self-regulated rather be meddled with (tell that to Wall Street!) In essence, he is an advocate of the fox guarding the hen house theory.

One mustn't forget that Mr. Rothkopf is one of Henry Kissinger's cohorts and an ex-managing director of KISSINGER ASSOCIATES, the New York based international consulting firm, founded and run by Henry Kissinger. Thus, it is in his own best interest to paint a rosy, jovial and altruistic picture of the world of these 'enlightened' elites, many of whom perchance happen to be favoured and prestigious clients.

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Alternative Title: "I'm Great! I'm in with the IN Crowd" Sept. 20 2008
By Reader in Palo Alto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book takes a LOT of time to say very little. In summary, here's what the author takes several hundred pages to tell us:

a) The world is ruled by an informal group of about 6,000 people;

b) I [the author] am one of them! Aren't I special?

c) I know who the others are---but I'm not going to tell you!

d) They all get together once each year in Davos;

e) Davos is quaint, and has good restaurants, but inadequate lodging; and,

f) Oh, did I forget to tell you? I'M one of the Davos world elite! I AM special!
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