Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

The new global elites

By Chrystia Freeland
January 4, 2011

The January/February issue of The Atlantic features Chrystia’s cover story, “The Rise of the New Global Elite.” The piece discusses the rise in income inequality over the past few decades, how today’s tycoons are more likely to be self-made and cosmopolitan than the plutocrats of the past, and how the new elite have more in common with the nouveau riche in emerging markets than with their own countrymen.

Chrystia was on Morning Joe this morning to preview the article along with James Bennett, The Atlantic‘s editor-in-chief. Here’s the video of their conversation:

And, here is an excerpt from Chrystia’s piece in the Atlantic:

Before the recession, it was relatively easy to ignore this concentration of wealth among an elite few. The wondrous inventions of the modern economy—Google, Amazon, the iPhone—broadly improved the lives of middle-class consumers, even as they made a tiny subset of entrepreneurs hugely wealthy. And the less-wondrous inventions—particularly the explosion of subprime credit—helped mask the rise of income inequality for many of those whose earnings were stagnant.

But the financial crisis and its long, dismal aftermath have changed all that. A multibillion-dollar bailout and Wall Street’s swift, subsequent reinstatement of gargantuan bonuses have inspired a narrative of parasitic bankers and other elites rigging the game for their own benefit. And this, in turn, has led to wider—and not unreasonable—fears that we are living in not merely a plutonomy, but a plutocracy, in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.

Through my work as a business journalist, I’ve spent the better part of the past decade shadowing the new super-rich: attending the same exclusive conferences in Europe; conducting interviews over cappuccinos on Martha’s Vineyard or in Silicon Valley meeting rooms; observing high-powered dinner parties in Manhattan. Some of what I’ve learned is entirely predictable: the rich are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me.

What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves.

You can read the whole article here.

Posted by Peter Rudegeair.

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Elite = rich? I thought elite included aspects other than wealth, like refinement, intelligence, sophistication. What’s there to be happy about here? They’ll die rich too, but won’t die refined, intelligent or sophisticated. Why are we talking about the stupids?

Posted by nicfulton | Report as abusive
 

There will also be an explosion of wealth very soon. Technology has enabled man to be the jack + master of all trades. Anyone who is a Jack of all trades, can also be a master of all. This was a challenge to us before technology creeped in. With this happening, riches multiplied and any new upcoming businessman has atleast 1 new line of business in the 1st 3-4 years. It keeps growing. Population explosion, social demands etc have ensured that any business will not fail out of labour shortage. Labourers / non-businessmen have also become dynamic. They are street-smart and get things done in the best way. The entire ecosystem of businesses has become intelligent. We’re already living in the future. Now is future!

Posted by x.wolfman | Report as abusive
 

Chrystia,
Brilliant piece. Thanks. I’m as concerned about the ecological implications as the social. Sustainable supplies of clean water, air and safe, healthy foods aren’t assured for the super-rich regardless of their mobility. I invite you to consider Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons & an academic concept, The Coase Theorem. The super-rich must devote their smarts and sweat to reconcile these paradoxical concepts.

My State U. Econ. degree gave me a false sense that I was entitled to the three car-4 bedroom house that I’ve leveraged up to my neck. Even as I accept full responsibility for my station, I resent that interest I pay helps line the pockets of financiers. Were some demagogue to propose a middle & lower class debt-forgiveness ‘Jubilee’ as a radical economic policy intiative, even a moderately educated psuedo-economist like me could be tempted to support it if the disparity you wrote of continues to grow. Our economic system’s collapse could pressure nature even more. I appreciate your work and hope it results in more enlightened self-interest from global elites.

Posted by stephenomist | Report as abusive
 

Chrystia,
Brilliant piece. Thanks. I’m as concerned about the ecological implications as the social. Sustainable supplies of clean water, air and safe, healthy foods aren’t assured for the super-rich regardless of their mobility. I invite you to consider Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons & an academic concept, The Coase Theorem. The super-rich must devote their smarts and sweat to reconcile these paradoxical concepts.

My State U. Econ. degree gave me a false sense that I was entitled to the three car-4 bedroom house that I’ve leveraged up to my neck. Even as I accept full responsibility for my station, I resent that interest I pay helps line the pockets of financiers. Were some demagogue to propose a middle & lower class debt-forgiveness ‘Jubilee’ as a radical economic policy intiative, even a moderately educated psuedo-economist like me could be tempted to support it if the disparity you wrote of continues to grow. Our economic system’s collapse could pressure nature even more. I appreciate your work and hope it results in more enlightened self-interest from global elites.

Posted by stephenomist | Report as abusive
 

Chrystia,
The Allen Media Conference at Sun Valley was founded and is still run by Allen & Co’s Herb Allen, Jr. and not Paul Allen of Microsoft fame as you stated in your “Global Elite” piece.
stanf

Posted by stanf | Report as abusive
 

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