Sunday, October 05, 2008

SUPERCLASS, the Global Power Elite and the World They are Making

A moneyed elite controls the world. That’s conspiracy theory. And that's just the way it is, according to David Rothkopf, author of Superclass. Rothkopf hobnobs with this elite. His resume includes a stint as director of Kissinger Associates. (Yes, that Kissinger.) He describes mingling with the multibillionaires at Davos. But the book is not an exposé. The author describes the structure of the elite, the astronomical magnitude of individual fortunes, the revolving doors that connect the U.S. Defense, Commerce, and Treasury Departments with the board rooms of the Fortune 100, and he seems perfectly pleased with it all.

Rothkopf’s purpose is less than clear. At times he plays the anthropologist and renders an objective, dispassionate account of rites and rituals among the upper tiers of the global control hierarchy. He narrates a kind of travelogue of interesting journeys among the high and mighty.

Ostensibly, Rothkopf also is trying to debunk conspiracy theories. He portrays the elite as people with a strong work ethic who embrace honest capitalism. They’re just smart operators. Nothing conspiratorial. But he seems oblivious to the prospect of the sheer magnitude of the elite’s wealth and influence delivering an outcome that for all practical purposes is identical to that of the successful execution of a conspiracy. When the wealthy can shuffle back and forth between the highest executive levels of the public and private sectors, then conspiracy might be an imprecise notion, but not one fundamentally flawed. Rothkopf describes a vast financial control elite whose machinations carry it ever nearer to total global control. A conspiracy by any other name . . . .

Late in the book, Rothkopf does address conspiracy theories directly and plies the old saw about people being scared by the apparent randomness of events and then seeking comfort in the idea that events are managed from behind the scenes. He writes,

“Conspiracy theory is the comfort food of politics. Actually, it is more than that. According to psychologists, it fills a fundamental desire to balance perceived causes with perceived consequences and thus satisfies our sense that bad outcomes are not the product of happenstance.”
He then offers a couple facile quotes from psychologists:
“If we think big events like a president being assassinated can happen at the hands of a minor individual, that points to the unpredictability and randomness of life, and that unsettles us."
and
Conspiracy theories are “psychologically reassuring because what they say is that everything is connected, nothing happens by accident and that there is some kind of order in the world.”
What psychobabble. Insipid.
If conspiracy theories are so reassuring, so warm and fuzzy, then why does a prominent conspiracy magazine go by the name, Paranoia? Why not, Milk and Cookies?

Think about how empty is this dismissal of conspiracy theories. They put people at ease? Puh-leeze.

Take as an example the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis. What is the more comforting belief, that the bridge fell because budget cuts reduced inspections, because the warnings that were offered were ignored, because the bridge was overloaded with equipment during repairs, because the original construction used inferior materials—in other words, because of human foibles and bad luck?

OR, is it more comforting to believe that the bridge was brought down deliberately by evil agents conspiring behind the scenes?

The idea that conspiracy theories are comfort food is ridiculous. Just the opposite is true. They are bitter fare. Start espousing conspiracy theories, and your loved ones eventually will start asking you questions like, “If you actually believe that, then how can you sleep at night?” The conspiratorial view is unsettling.

Indeed, people looking for comfort amid the seeming randomness of big events turn to the reassuring tones of network television and mainstream print media to be told that all is as it should be and that our elected leaders are on top of things. The alphabet soup of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, BBC, and NPR constitutes the comfort food of politics.

Of course, one can defend the concentration of wealth in the hands of so few with an assertion that those with wealth are deserving of it. But this leads to a Darwinian tautology:
Who are the wealthy? The deserving.

Who are the deserving? The wealthy.
Come January’s transfer of power, we’ll see how many Bush administration officials and how many congressmen ousted by the election dash over to Wall Street to catch the monies they just pitched over there. Maybe this was the real reason the bailout had to be rushed. The bill had to be signed before the new administration and congress took office. Fresh leadership might have come under pressure to consider the welfare of people outside the millionaire’s club.

It worked by skulduggery, but an autonomous executive class has positioned itself on top of the American masses. The concentrated wealth that this class wields renders inoperable any distinction between public and private sectors. Beyond the reach of democratic institutions and insulated from the discipline of markets, the executive class alternately assumes public office to ratify its wishes then retires to the boardroom to pocket the results in a perpetual cycle of self enrichment.

Conservative: Someone who hates socialism when it benefits poor people but loves socialism when it benefits the wealthy.

And the winners are
J. P. Morgan Chase
Goldman Sachs
Citigroup