The “Told You So” Moment

The “Told You So” Moment

On David Rothkopf’s Superclass, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans, and Mark Engler’s How to Rule the World

Superclass
by David Rothkopf
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008 376 pp $26

Bad Samaritans
by Ha-Joon Chang
Bloomsbury Press, 2008 276 pp $26.95

How to Rule the World
by Mark Engler
Nation Books, 2008 362 pp $16.95

THIS OCTOBER, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings came to Washington, and, as they do every year, an impassioned bunch of activists mounted protests, decrying the neoliberal agenda that has deregulated markets, pitted worker against worker, and devastated local communities and the environment.

The difference this time around was that, in the wake of the most significant financial meltdown of our times, the bankers were echoing the protestors’ calls for re-regulation. Indeed, as the number of people protesting the global institutions has shrunk since September 11, 2001, the mainstream acceptance of their basic critiques has swelled. Federal candidates call for a greening and localization of the economy. Corporate boards fret about the fallout from increased inequality. Opinion polls show that majorities of voters are against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) regardless of age, party affiliation, or any other demographic indicator. And the power of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other neoliberal institutions has been frozen in place or, in some cases, scaled back.

Three recent books—one from a corporate consultant, one from a Cambridge economist, and one from an activist-journalist—provide new evidence of the growing influence of the global-justice critique and show the challenges it will face in the global meltdown era.

JOAN ROBINSON once said that Joseph Schumpeter was Karl Marx with the adjectives changed. David Rothkopf’s latest book, Superclass, could be compared in a similar fashion to Jeff Faux’s book The Global Class War. The thesis is essentially the same: power and wealth are being concentrated in the hands of a small band of elites who have little to no loyalty to their home countries. But where Faux shows how the elites use their power to create agreements (NAFTA, for example) that reflect their interests, Rothkopf doesn’t seem to make the connection between power and interest or, for that matter, even argue that different classes and segments of society have different interests.

Indeed, Rothkopf discards history and adopts a metaphysical approach. Elites speak English; attend the same schools; interact in the same boardrooms, on the same ski slopes and private jets; and from this a (mostly) common agenda spontaneously emerges. Indeed, the concentration of power and resources is natural, unavoidable—even desirable. “We will always want and need leaders,” he writes.

Rothkopf is a corporate consultant and former Clinton administration trade official who had a hand in the deregulation of the 1990s. For that reason, his admis...