Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else

by Chrystia Freeland

Perhaps the most frequently reported economic trend in recent years is the growth of global inequality and the rise of a super-rich overclass, indelibly dubbed “the one per cent” by the Occupy movement. That said, most of what has been written on the subject has come from authors with a partisan political agenda. Perhaps the chief virtue of Plutocrats is that, despite being a financial reporter with access to exclusive corridors of power, author Chrystia Freeland does an admirable job staying relatively neutral in her informative account of the “new virtual nation of mammon.”

Freeland focuses on the culture, ideology, and biographies of the 0.1 per cent (ultra high-net-worth individuals) while considering the larger historical changes that have allowed for their spectacular rise. In brief, our Second Gilded Age is the product of advances in technology, globalization, and deregulation, and the new captains of industry are predominantly “alpha geeks” (it is an almost exclusively male club) working in the fields of finance and the Internet. A subsidiary economy of “superstars” has evolved to service this elite, but for the most part, at least in North America, the middle class has been running a lot harder just to stand still.

The book is nicely arranged into chapters dealing with different themes (historical context, culture), and seamlessly integrates the latest academic research. As one would expect from Freeland, a veteran journalist who also wrote Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism, it’s a fun read, though occasionally marred by repetition.

Freeland observes that the super rich are mostly individuals who found themselves at the right place at the right time, and she quotes a number of the more honest plutocrats, who confess to the important role luck has played in their success. But despite her critical conclusion, which focuses on the potential for today’s economic inequalities to calcify into a rigid new caste system, Freeland is reluctant to enter into a debate over the extent to which the current system can be called a meritocracy. Even more disappointing is the lack of discussion about the social benefit of what the “working rich” do for a living.

This, however, would enter into the kind of political argument Freeland wants to avoid. And while that limits her book somewhat, it doesn’t diminish the value of the fascinating and well-informed analysis she provides.


Reviewer: Alex Good

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 334 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-38566-971-9

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 2012-12

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs