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Power, Inc. The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government--and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead

David Rothkopf

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

448 Pages


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The world’s largest company, Wal-Mart Stores, has revenues higher than the GDP of all but twenty-five of the world’s countries. Its employees outnumber the populations of almost a hundred nations. The world’s largest asset manager, a secretive New York company called Black Rock, controls assets greater than the national reserves of any country on the planet. A private philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spends as much worldwide on health care as the World Health Organization.  

The rise of private power may be the most important and least understood trend of our time. David Rothkopf provides a fresh, timely look at how we have reached a point where thousands of companies have greater power than all but a handful of states. Beginning with the story of an inquisitive Swedish goat wandering off from his master and inadvertently triggering the birth of the oldest company still in existence, Power, Inc. follows the rise and fall of kings and empires, the making of great fortunes, and the chaos of bloody revolutions. A fast-paced tale in which champions of liberty are revealed to be paid pamphleteers of moneyed interests, and greedy scoundrels trigger changes that lift billions from deprivation, Power, Inc. traces the bruising jockeying for influence right up to today’s financial crises, growing inequality, broken international system, and battles over the proper role of government and markets.

Rothkopf argues that these recent developments, coupled with the rise of powers like China and India, may not lead to the triumph of American capitalism that was celebrated just a few years ago. Instead, he considers an unexpected scenario, a contest among competing capitalisms offering different visions for how the world should work, a global ideological struggle in which European and Asian models may have advantages. An important look at the power struggle that is defining our times, Power, Inc. also offers critical insights into how to navigate the tumultuous years ahead.


Praise for Power, Inc.

"Rothkopf’s book is astonishingly ambitious. It traces the relationship between state and market—a relationship that, he says, has succeeded the relationship between church and state as the dominant conflict in societies—from the thirteenth century to the present. During the past thirty years, he says, we’ve adopted the view that politics and markets were actually allied: freedom in one realm meant freedom in the other. The result of this idea, along with the increasing influence of business within both political parties, was a series of policies that deregulated national currencies and banking systems and enabled the globalized economy of the Superclass. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of people still live in specific places and depend on local and national governments for social benefits, beginning with items as basic as stable currencies. Globalization, in its present form, strengthens a cadre of very large businesses that Rothkopf calls 'supercitizens,' and diminishes government, which is becoming, in his nice phrase, 'too small to succeed.' . . . he makes it clear that he thinks that political decisions created the present situation and that only different political decisions will alleviate it."—Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker

"The problem for the right in Britain and its big brother in the US is that, after 30 years of the conservative revolution, it is now wedded to the premodern view that risks in a market economy and society should be run as individualistically as possible . . . But, as a growing number of us are arguing— David Rothkopf is but the latest to sign up—the propositions ignore reality . . . This is a worldwide debate, as Rothkopf outlines, a bid to define what 21st-century capitalism could be."—Will Hutton, The Guardian

"David Rothkopf is a deep thinker and a fine writer. We now know that he is also an astute and creative historian. Power, Inc. tells an important story: how once-weak corporations have evolved into the muscular institutions that are now stronger than many countries—and have been grotesquely enabled in the United States by Citizens United."—Alan S. Blinder, former Vice Chairman, U.S. Federal Reserve, and Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

"It would be hard to find a timelier book than Power, Inc. Where we draw the line between public and private power will shape the twenty-first century as the divide between communism and capitalism shaped the twentieth. The full dimensions of that struggle are just beginning to emerge, but David Rothkopf, as usual, is ahead of the curve with a provocative, insightful book that is easy to read and hard to put down."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

"Power and money make the world go around. Eras are defined by how they are intertwined. David Rothkopf’s important book chronicles the history of the power money nexus and defines where we are and where we may be going. This book deserves much discussion in both the world’s national and financial capitals."—Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University, and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

"In his new book, Power, Inc., David Rothkopf sounds an alarm.  He argues that thousands of private actors who he calls "super citizens" now hold greater power than most countries in the world.  He notes, for instance, that corporations have grown to the point where roughly the richest two thousand are more influential than 70-80 percent of the world's nations. Walmart, for example, has revenues higher than the GDP of all but 25 nations.  He correctly notes that these gargantuan players now prevent us from dealing with the pressing issues of our day such as global warming, growing economic inequality and embracing cleaner forms of energy. He examines watershed years of yore, such as 1288, when the world's first stock certificate was issued to Sweden's Stora, the world's oldest corporation, now a huge multinational.  The point he is making is that the struggle between private and corporate power is hardly a new phenomenon . . . The story comes to life when he hones in on events which took place in the United States starting at the end of the 19th century.  He recounts the time when JP Morgan literally rescued the United States government from bankruptcy in 1896.  He also tells the sorry story of how corporations gained legal protections and rights in the Supreme Court starting in 1886 and ending most recently with the infamous Citizens United case in 2010. In Rothkopf's view, the world has shifted from a 'battle between capitalism and Communism to something even more complex: a battle between differing forms of capitalism in which the distinction between each is in the relative role of each is in the relative role and responsibilities of public and private sectors.' The extremes of both Soviet communism and free-market financial excesses have been discredited.  American capitalism initially triumphed but has since receded: and competition between different capitalisms will continue."—Roy Ulrich, The Huffington Post

"As David Rothkopf points out in his incisive and timely new book, Power, Inc., the pendulum has swung sharply from public to corporate in the last generation. That has changed the character of the US economy. 'In the past there was a tight connection between economic growth leading to jobs creation, which in turn led to broad wealth creation,' Mr Rothkopf says. 'Those links no longer seem to work.'"—Edward Luce, Financial Times

"A sharp rebuke of free markets run amok and a loud call for rebalancing public needs and corporate interests."—Greg Hanscom, Grist

"What is the appropriate balance between the market and the state in providing both opportunities and protections for its citizens? . . . For an idea of why the major economies have yet to converge around an answer, a brilliant, ambitious new book provides penetrating insights . . . Rothkopf's basic premise is that nation states, most of them at least, cannot make sovereign decisions about the financial, economic and global policies their citizens require without contending with the enormous market power of large global businesses whose corporate profit and autonomy far outstrips most national GDPs . . . Rothkopf's message is especially relevant for the United States, where the market fundamentalism of the 1990s fed a deregulation frenzy of explosive consequences for the decay of today's middle class, and of the country's infrastructure and human capital. . . Decades before the Occupy Wall Street movement, the slogan 'Capitalism with a Human Face' captured the aspirations of the socially-minded. IMF and World Bank meetings showed the many faces of Rothkopf's competing capitalisms, democratic countries nearly all of them. Yet none seemed very happy. Is the gloom permanent? The 800 years of history covered in this courageous, learned, and timely book suggests that we still have a choice."—Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relation

"Rothkopf is an energetic storyteller . . . The most eye-popping sections of Power, Inc., detail how decolonization, globalization and financial deregulation have subverted the prerogatives states have traditionally reserved for themselves—like controlling their own currencies, regulating companies operating inside their borders, and providing a basic safety net for their citizens."—Romesh Ratnesar, Bloomberg Businessweek

"The frontier between governments and markets is constantly shifting. Focusing on this contested border, David Rothkopf vividly describes the parallel rise of the modern nation-state and the modern corporation. In an age of globalization, Rothkopf argues, this frontier urgently needs to be redrawn.  Readers, whatever their views on this important debate, will be compelled to rethink today’s economic travails and reassess expectations for tomorrow."—Daniel Yergin, author of The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

"At a time when our political debate lacks clarity and our economic model is floundering, David Rothkopf brings a compelling vision to the table, both about the challenges that we face and about what the future might look like. It is based on his own experience in business and government and on a remarkably detailed sense of history. He describes how the complex relationship between private and public interest has evolved since the time of Sweden’s first king, and how that relationship at least in part explains our current malaise. Rothkopf employs a brilliant use of history to identify the channels that could, in the end, lead to a better way forward."—Carol Graham, Senior Fellow and Charles Robinson Chair, The Brookings Institution, and author of The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being

"Rothkopf . . . uses a wide-angle lens to examine the relation between public and private power . . . [He] delivers a lively, accessible treatment of a multifaceted, complex subject."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"This should be read by serious students of politics, economics, or business and will be of interest to anyone invested in our country's economic history and, especially, future."—Bonnie A. Tollefson, Library Journal

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Read an Excerpt

1     The Goat with the Red Horns
In the abyss itself lie in wild confusion—pell-mell—stones, slag and scoria, and an eternal, stupefying sulphurous vapour rises from the depths, as if the hell-broth, whose reek poisons and kills all the green gladsomeness of nature, were being brewed down below. One would think this was where Dante went down and saw the Inferno, with all its horror and immitigable pain.
—E.T.A. Hoffmann, “The Mines of Falun”
The Past, Present, and Future of the Power Struggle That Defines
Read the full excerpt



  • Rothkopf speaks to the "CBS This Morning" about his new book, Power, Inc.

    Rothkopf discusses how corporations have undermined government power.

  • Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Dylan Ratigan Show: Balancing public and private interests

    The Dylan Ratigan Show Mega Panel is joined by David Rothkopf, specialist and CEO of the international advisory firm Garten Rothkopf, to discuss international economic regulations to curb the influence of private interests on governments.

  • Big Think: Who Wants to Run the World?

    As Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, David Rothkopf oversaw the International Trade Administration under Clinton. Now he's arguing that the deregulation which occurred during the 1990's unleashed an epic rivalry not between nation-states, but between business and government.

  • Thom Hartmann Show: Conversations with Great Minds

    Striking a balance between private and public power is a major goal for society today - and correctly reaching it will help us prosper in the 21st century. So how do we achieve this balance?

  • Have Corporations Become Too Powerful?

    Rothkopf on Yahoo! Daily Ticker

  • Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    MSNBC Morning Joe

    David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy Magazine talks about the power struggle between big business and big government.  Rothkopf explains how the growth of corporations increases their influence on a country’s economy.



  • David Rothkopf

  • David Rothkopf is the internationally acclaimed author of Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making and Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. He is the president and chief executive of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.