Friday, February 3, 2023

Review of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else by Chrystia Freeland

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

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“Political decisions helped to create the super-elite in the first place, and as the economic might of the super-elite grows, so does its political muscle.  The feedback loop between money, politics, and ideas is both cause and consequence of the rise of the super-elite.” – Chrystia Freeland, Introduction, Page xiv

“George’s popularity is an example of the appeal of the rentier critique – a vision of capitalism without the cronies.  That’s something we can all subscribe to.  It is also one reason coming to terms with today’s super-elite is trickier than it was in the age of the robber barons.  The crony class is, of course, still alive and well.  But one of the striking characteristics of modern-day plutocrats is that, in contrast with their nineteenth-century predecessors, they are largely the working rich.  Even today’s rent-seeking plutocrats work for a living.” – Chrystia Freeland, Chapter 2: Culture of the Plutocrats, Page 42

“We are all familiar with the Matthew effect in pop culture, where it is so apparent that it seems as inevitable and unremarkable as gravity.  Celebrities are famous for being famous.  And fame is its own achievement and currency.” – Chrystia Freeland, Chapter 3: Superstars, Page 123



Politics facilitated the creation of the super-rich, the plutocrats.  As the super-rich become wealthier, they obtain political power.  Plutocrats were called robber barons during the industrial revolution.  Plutocrats are the cronies of capitalism.  Unlike the historical robber baron counterpart, plutocrats are the working rich.  Their wealth was generated through effort, rather than inherited wealth.  They are economic meritocrats, who not only consume wealth but create it.  Plutocrats utilized technology and globalization to reach more people than ever.  Plutocrats compete with each for more money, and have redefined what it means to be rich. 

The rich and poor work very long hours, but better to be the plutocrat.  Plutocrats have better benefits with better severance packages.  Wealth impacts life satisfaction for everyone, not just the plutocrats.  Although people are making more money, they are generally more frustrated with their income source.  Economic growth at the expense of life satisfaction.  Even behavior changes as people become wealthier.  The affluent tend to behave more unethically.  Tending to prioritize themselves over others. 

The wealthy can self-tax through charities.  Some claim that they prefer charities of their own selection, rather than government using their money through taxation.  Some plutocrats tend to see themselves as victims, and claim that they should be respected because they provide the jobs and have created a lot of value. 

An interesting relationship between government and the private sector exists, because of a revolving door.  There are many who work as regulators and then as the regulated, or vice versa.  A relationship that creates a conflict of interest when engaging with each other. 

Labor market has become polarized.  With better and highly paid jobs at the top, without much change for the bottom.  The middle-income jobs have been hollowed out.  Knowledge workers have become higher paid because technology used has become personal to each individual.  The worker is able to take their tools with them and apply their knowledge elsewhere.  Silicon Valley figured out how to make their system be more egalitarian, by contracting out the lowest paid jobs.  Thereby they do not count as employees. 

There are workers who are famous.  Being a celebrity means being famous, for the fact that the person is famous.   Firms need to pay more for those celebrities.  Not because of talent, but because they are famous.  A celebrity surcharge. 



The quality of claims and counterclaims varies.  While there are claims that are given a complex understanding, with the implications and consequences of the claims.  There are claims which are standalone, without much analysis.

There is a survivorship bias.  Few plutocrats are analyzed, and they appear to be representatives of the group.  The plutocrats referenced have been wealthy for some time.  But the group of plutocrats have changed, which means that not all plutocrats had effective political power.

The book prioritizes showing the way the system operates, and lacks potential resolutions to the inequality problem.  The problem is expressed as more complex than the historic inequality era’s.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is a plutocrat?
•What was a robber baron?
•What are the consequences of a plutocracy?
•How do plutocrats become wealthy?
•Are the rich happier?
•How is the rich behavior compared ethically to poorer people?
•What is a self-tax?
•How should the plutocrats be thought of?
•What is the revolving door?
•Why is the labor market polarized?
•How did Silicon Valley become more egalitarian?
•What happens to plutocrats who are in the government but dissent?
•Who was Henry George and what were George’s ideas?
•What is the celebrity surcharge? 

Book Details
Publisher:             The Penguin Press [Penguin Group]
Edition ISBN:      9781594204098
Pages to read:       294
Publication:          2012
1st Edition:           2012
Format:                 Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          3