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The global elite

A riveting read on how the rich and the powerful are shaping our world today.

Print Edition: June 15, 2008

Superclass
David Rothkopf
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 376
Price: $26 (Rs 1,118)

Power corrupts. Absolute power is Kind of neat.”—John Lehman. There are what I call “phenomenon publications”. Paperbacks that make their grand entrance just when the phenomenon has all settled in the auditorium of life. Superclass is one such. Early in the book, David Rothkopf tables his disclaimer that his work is not an “eat-the-rich” tome.

And to be honest, barring a few jibes such as the fact that the rich give back just 1 per cent of what they make to the poor, Rothkopf does not indulge in billionaire bashing. What he does, however, is faithfully present this tribe called the Superclass. A bunch of about 6,000 people who kind of run the world.

To his credit, Rothkopf’s work is indeed a large canvas with Jackson Pollocklike brushstrokes that colour politics, business, media and entertainment (can the last two really be distinguished these days?).

He also sets the definition of the Superclass rather early in the book. According to him, “The defining, distinguishing feature of these individuals is power that on an ongoing basis touches millions of lives… They are the few who have accrued immense influence by virtue of talent, work, fortune or a combination of all three.”

With that in place, he goes straight to the second home of the Superclass: Davos. From the fondue at Gentiana to the Davos Dip, which involves the bending of the knee and casting a subtle glance at the name badge to know who is who, Rothkopf takes Paulo Coelho as a classical example of the anonymity that suddenly casts a shadow over even the famous if they are not part of the Superclass.

At one point, he touches a sore point of the Superclass when he states that their abiding yearning is access. And therein, for me, lies the irony of the age we live in. In business as in politics—the “I must be in” syndrome is really all that the rich and the powerful seek. In sum, even the rich must beg, suggests Rothkopf.

Where the book scores is in the fact that it goes beyond the borders of conventions and enters new countries of culture: blogging and social networking. Rothkopf examines the Superclass of the Information Age and looks at how the information age and free speech have passed the baton of power to the supposed powerless. Even how technology has empowered the ordinary.

Finally in a disappointing end, he suggests a formula of how one can become a part of the Superclass. Having said that, Rothkopf has cobbled together a book that is mandatory reading if one wishes to understand why “the world is what it is.”

Global edge
Joel Kurtzman and Glenn Yago
Harvard Business School Press
Pages: 220
$29.95 (Rs 1,288)

As economies around the world open up and global investors rush in, they are getting tripped up by a number of factors they didn’t quite anticipate early on in their forays. Things like safety of their intellectual property, a biased judicial system, corrupt bureaucracy, or politicians hand in glove with local businessmen. As a result, their investments either end up as failures or take more years to break even than expected. Not entering newer markets is not an option for the global corporations of today. Global Edge, therefore, is all about how to manage risks in cross-border business. Kurtzman and Yago, experts at the Milken Institute, offer a CLEAR framework to understand the nature of risks ranging from effectiveness of legal systems to transparency of accounting to quality of enforcement.

Their Opacity Index, which measures “the lack of clear, accurate, formal and widely accepted practices where business, finance, and government meet”, is meant to be “a new system for rating and thinking about risk”. On their opacity scores for various countries, India ranks at 38, above Pakistan and China, but well below other countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. Ultimately, though, as the writers argue, opacity in itself is not a problem; the inability to assess it and respond to it is a bigger problem.

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