by Jerome a Paris
Sat Jan 2nd, 2010 at 01:46:04 PM EST
The Financial Times' US editor Chrystia Freeland has an article today which can be interpreted in quite different ways. As its title suggests (Global super-rich no longer look so benign), and as various paragraphs which underline the amazing growth of inequality in recent years, the article can be seen as a belated acknowledgement that the emergence of ultra-dominant class of super rich (the so-called "global plutocracy") is a problem rather than something to celebrate (as it has been for a long while).
But Migeru has noted that this article was also a vicious attempt at trying to rewrite history, by creating a definition of that plutocratic class ("the hyper-educated, internationally minded meritocrats") which was rather convenient to deflect blame. If it is the highly educated, hard-working elite which has gotten very rich, at least it's a mostly fair order of things (work hard, get rich) that brought about the current situation; it also encompasses a lot more people than a few thousand gazillionaires - many readers here will likely find "highly educated" to describe them, and even more will see "hard-working" as even more appropriate: hey presto, suddenly income inequality is your fault, too!
So, go read the article, and tell us what you think is most significant...
median wages have stagnated as machines and developing world workers have pushed down the value of low-skilled labour in the west. This dynamic has been most pronounced in the US: between 1997 and 2001, the top 10 per cent of US earners received 49 per cent of the growth in aggregate real wages and salaries, while the top 1 per cent received an astonishing 24 per cent. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 per cent received under 13 per cent, just over half of what went to the top 1 per cent.
We live in an age of unprecedented openness – of ideas, of people, of trade. But for the middle class, these opportunities have been largely theoretical: in America, social mobility has actually declined.
The less wondrous inventions [of the plutocracy] – particularly the explosion of subprime credit – masked the rise of income inequality for many of those on the losing end of the global shift.
The genius of that elite [the old Wasp ascendancy] was its ability to bring the American dream within reach of nearly everyone. If it hopes to emulate the longevity of America’s Wasps, and, more importantly, the political system they created, today’s global plutocracy must figure out how to do the same.
Thomas Friedman was right: as these political, economic and social barricades came down, the world really did become flatter. Older, established institutions – ranging from the music business to traditional media and Detroit carmakers – found themselves outmanoeuvred and out-priced by entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Mumbai and Shanghai.
We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity for the smartest, most persistent, and most cunning among us – and, incredibly, today’s rags-to-riches stories are emerging not just from Harvard dorm rooms, but also from the software centres of Bangalore and the oil fields of Siberia.
the (...) forces that have allowed the super-talented to claim a reward that is richer and can be earned more swiftly than ever before
Both globalisation and technology have had a punishing impact on those without the intellect, luck, or chutzpah to profit from them
The wondrous inventions of the plutocracy – iPhones, Google, Amazon – improved everyone’s life.
So? What's most significant?
- That inequality is acknowledged as a serious political problem, or the claim that such inequality was caused by a fair competition of talents and work?
- The acknowledgement that growth, as it is defined, is benefitting almost exclusively a very small group, or the claim that this group got there through "hard work"?
- That middle classes are left out, or the claim that the plutocracy is a new meritocracy bringing down old barriers and conservatisms?
- that the plutocracy had something to do with it, through dubious inventions like subprime debt, or that it is beautifully international and multi-ethnic?
- that even the right-wing has noticed, or that it's nothing so wrong that a little bit of elitist tinkering can solve?