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Superclass The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making
This is a book about power. It is about the fact that power is concentrated in the hands of a remarkably small number of people around the world. It is about who they are, how they compare to the elites of the past, and how they differ from the rest of us. Most of all, it is about the profound impact this group has on our lives and how it is shaping our times.
Power is, of course, hard to quantify. Wealth is often a source of power.
Position regularly translates into power. Perhaps the most ancient source of power is the ability to project violent force. But sometimes power is grounded in subtler things, like access or ideas. There is no single or universally accepted metric for power, so a certain amount of subjective judgment is inevitable. Determining who has it and who does not is made more difficult because some of the most influential among us commonly mask their power or use it infrequently. What is more, only a very few people have the sort of international power that is the subject of this book. Many of those we are accustomed to thinking of as powerful actually have very limited impact in a global sense. Formidable as they may be, they are figures of only local or national importance.
A global elite has emerged over the past several decades that has vastly more power than any other group on the planet. Each of the members of this superclass has the ability to regularly influence the lives of millions of people in multiple countries worldwide. Each actively exercises this power, and they often amplify it through the development of relationships with others in this class. The age of inherited lifelong power is largely behind us, and for most members of the group influence is transitory; to truly be a member of this superclass one has to hold on to power for at least long enough to make an impact—to enter or affect the world of other members of this superclass—a period of a couple of years or more.
That such a group exists is indisputable. Heads of state, CEOs of the world’s largest companies, media barons, billionaires who are actively involved in their investments, technology entrepreneurs, oil potentates, hedge fund managers, private equity investors, top military commanders, a select few religious leaders, a handful of renowned writers, scientists, and artists, even terrorist leaders and master criminals, meet the above criteria for membership.
By posing the idea of the existence of a superclass, some key questions emerge. The most obvious is: how big is it? Using the above parameters and combing systematically through publicly available resources, my researchers and I identified just over 6,000 people who qualify. As will become clear, it is a choice based on natural cutoff points, providing us with a group that is both small enough to analyze in some rational way and large enough to encompass all the core international communities from politics, business, the military, and the world of ideas needed for it to be representative of the most important sources of power worldwide.
The most common question I have been asked since undertaking this book is: Is there a list? As it happens, there is. Many people have suggested
I publish it—partly because people love lists, but mostly because many of those who are members of the superclass or who aspire to be are interested in seeing who is “in” and who is not. But publishing such a list would be an exercise in futility. The day after it was published, it would be obsolete. As I noted earlier, power is transient: Many members of the superclass qualify because of jobs they hold, but people come and go from such jobs. Some retire, some die. Others suffer financial or professional calamities. Some members of the group are each year deposed. Others are incarcerated. For these reasons, I have attempted to include a few sublists to illustrate the overall nature of the group, but I have done so with the clear recognition that I am painting a picture of a moving object.