Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Super-rich shall inherit the Earth

When you mention the word 'oligarch' it has a particular resonance with the clique of men whose fortunes were made pillaging Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union - most famous among them Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and the now jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

However, as journalist Stephen Armstrong proves in his book 'The Super-rich shall inherit the Earth' oligarchs are not solely the preserve of Russia. While, the not-quite-post-cold-war media is keen to emphasise corruption in Russia, we know very little of the internal affairs of the other 'BRIC' nations: Brazil, India and China - which all have very similar oligarchical systems in which a super-rich elite evades any government regulation or control and in which government seemingly serves their global power interests.

The sub-title of the book, 'The new global oligarchs and how they're taking over our world' reflects the emphasis that is given to these emerging world power states. It describes the litany of corporate manslaughter, government corruption, embezzlement, defrauding of entire population's resources. After six chapters one could easily get the disconcerting feeling a message of 'and that is why we must defend the West!' coming at the end.

Those hoping for a comfortable portrayal of the evils of Johnny foreigner, against the great democratic [sic] Anglo-Saxon model will be disappointed. The brickbats aren't just reserved for the BRICs.

In the final four chapters, Armstrong looks with intense scrutiny at the global oligarchs in the US and the UK, including - in a move bound to delight all UK Uncutters - chapter 9 'In which Philip Green couldn't give a fuck'. This book sadly written before the incoming coalition government had appointed the knighted-under-New Labour Sir Philip to carry out a review of government spending and procurement.

Another chapter details the in-crowd of Goldman Sachs as they migrate from government to investment bank and back again. It also explains why Lehmann Brothers was left to collapse while Goldman Sachs was saved.

All in all this is a refreshing look at the global economy: massive and growing inequality, freedom for the super-rich and increasing authoritarianism for the poor, and government no longer able or willing to defend its citizens against mobile global capital.

While Marx argued that the working man has no country, it is very clear that the super-rich require a sponsor nation - and they have several corrupt jurisdictions to choose from.

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