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Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Meet the Billionaires: the 1,645 men and women who control a massive share of global assets worth $6.5 trillion. Darrell West reveals what the other 99.99998% of us need to know.With rich anecdotes and personal narratives, West goes inside the world of the ultra wealthy. Meet U.S. billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, Michael Bloomberg, David and Charles Koch, George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Donald Trump-as well as international billionaires from around the globe.The growing political engagement of this small supra-wealthy group raises important questions about influence, transparency, and government performance, and West lays bare the wealthification of politics, including:• How billionaires can block appointments and legislation they don't like• Why the supra-wealthy moved into policy advocacy and referenda at the state level• Why billionaires run for office in more than a dozen countries around the world

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2581-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. 1 The Controversy over Billionaires
    (pp. 1-30)

    AT THE TIME of his reelection campaign, several conservative billionaires were unhappy with the job performance of President Barack Obama. The economy was not doing well. There was uncertainty in foreign policy. Many of them believed that Obama was a poor leader. Irate about how things were going, they decided to devote several hundred million dollars to defeating the president. Individuals such as Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch, and the late Harold Simmons and a group of wealthy donors assembled by Republican strategist Karl Rove felt that they needed to speak out to ensure that the country had stronger...

  4. Part I Billionaire Activism

    • 2 Can Rich Dudes Buy an Election?
      (pp. 33-54)

      BILLIONAIRES DAVID AND CHARLES KOCH spent vast sums seeking to defeat President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Through a nonprofit organization called Americans for Prosperity and related conservative groups, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television ads and outreach activities accusing the president and his Democratic allies of poor leadership and weak performance.¹ As described by Kenneth Vogel ofPolitico, Americans for Prosperity had a field staff of more than 100 organizers and worked with a variety of like-minded groups. Together they funded electoral data mining through a group called Themis, argued for federal budget cuts through...

    • 3 Referendum Campaigns and Policy Advocacy
      (pp. 55-72)

      ELECTIONS GENERATE CONSIDERABLE media attention and organizational efforts on the part of various groups. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on mobilizing a broad range of voters, especially during presidential elections. Congressional races also attract high levels of spending designed to persuade the electorate to vote one way or another. Along with news stories and interest group activities, candidate outreach helps voters balance competing perspectives and make up their minds. State referendum campaigns and policy advocacy efforts, on the other hand, often are less visible and, except for a few hot-button issues such as gun control and immigration reform,...

    • 4 New Models of Philanthropy
      (pp. 73-91)

      MICHAEL BLOOMBERG is one of the leading practitioners of a new approach to philanthropy. As described by Mike Allen ofPolitico, the former New York City mayor intends to “dive in on an unprecedented plan to combine the forces of philanthropy, political advocacy and business. Bloomberg’s ambitions: to be the only force on the globe to blend all three on a huge scale.”¹ Crucial to this reported strategy is the integration of several parts of his financial empire. According to Allen, Bloomberg wants Bloomberg Philanthropies to focus on charitable giving directed at “public health; education; the environment; the arts; and...

    • 5 Elections Abroad
      (pp. 92-110)

      IN THE FORMER Soviet republic of Georgia, billionaire Bidzina “Boris” Ivanishvili has a net worth equal to one-third of his country’s $15.8 billion gross domestic product, according toForbes. He made his fortune early on in Russia by investing in financial institutions, factories, and mines. Along with his business partner, Vitaly Malkin, he set up Rossiyskiy Kredit Bank in 1990 and bought a number of firms cheaply during Russia’s mad dash to privatization during the 1990s. After selling those companies, he invested in a Russian drugstore chain called Doctor Stoletov and also in the Hotel Lux, along with a number...

  5. Part II It Takes a Village to Make a Fortune

    • 6 The Global 1,645
      (pp. 113-128)

      IF BILL GATES WERE a country, he would be the sixty-fifth richest nation in the world. At an estimated $76 billion, his fortune is larger than the gross domestic product of countries such as Costa Rica, Lebanon, Tunisia, Uruguay, Slovenia, Kenya, Panama, and Bolivia.¹ If Microsoft stock had performed better over the last decade, Gates might have had much more than that, but the value of the company’s stock fell from $601 billion in 2000 to $270 billion in mid-2013.² Gates cofounded the company with Paul Allen after dropping out of Harvard University, and eventually the two made billions selling...

    • 7 Innovative Ideas
      (pp. 129-144)

      SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS OFTEN are dissatisfied with the status quo and recognize when current companies are not providing needed services or products or are failing to understand broader trends that affect their markets. These individuals excel at anticipating new trends and have the remarkable ability to see around corners. They offer consumers new products or services that align with broader trends unfolding at the time—or they anticipate trends that no one else has considered. Through innovative ideas, they transform entire segments of the market and can become quite rich in the process. In this chapter, I look at the personal...

    • 8 Not a One-Person Act
      (pp. 145-164)

      IN THE 1983 COMEDYTrading Places, actor Dan Aykroyd plays a rich commodities trader named Louis Winthorpe III who involuntarily switches social and economic position with a street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy. Winthorpe is stripped of his privileged life, credit cards, job, and money as part of a bet by his managers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke. They do this to resolve the age-old question of whether a person’s lot in life is determined by nature or nurture.¹ The wealthy trader is forced to endure the discomforts of poverty, deprivation, and social isolation while the hustler...

  6. Part III What Can Be Done?

    • 9 Better Transparency, Governance, and Opportunity
      (pp. 167-193)

      THE POLITICAL SYSTEM in the United States and those in many other countries are beset by weak accountability, lack of transparency, excessive partisanship, and other aspects of unsatisfactory performance. These challenges have many roots, but the wealthification of politics is an important contributor. As outlined in earlier chapters, the super rich control a substantial proportion of the country’s total wealth, have policy viewpoints that differ from those of the general population, and have numerous ways to influence political processes, often out of public view.

      In addition to influencing public policy, the very rich often gain direct or indirect assistance from...

    • 10 Hope for the Future
      (pp. 194-212)

      AMID WIDESPREAD CONCERNS about stagnating opportunity in the United States and many other developed countries, past history offers evidence that investing in people pays ample dividends for society as a whole. My personal experience, for example, demonstrates the value of public-supported education and health care. During my rural youth, my family had little money for health care. One spring day in 1966, when I was 11 years old, I developed a sore throat. Thinking that it was not very serious, my parents did not take me to the doctor. Physicians cost money, and they didn’t have health insurance.

      A few...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 213-214)
  8. Appendix
    (pp. 215-218)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 219-246)
  10. Index
    (pp. 247-269)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)