Superclass The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making

David Rothkopf

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

416 Pages


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They are the wealthiest, the most elite, and they hold the most power. They run our governments, our largest corporations, the powerhouses of international finance, the media, world religions, and, from the shadows, the world's most dangerous criminal and terrorist organizations. The six thousand people who compose the global "Superclass" are shaping the history of our time.

Today's superclass has achieved unprecedented levels of wealth and power. Nationalist critics have argued that they have more in common with one another than with their own countrymen. They have globalized more rapidly than any other group—they control globalization—but they have been accused of feeding the growing economic and social inequity that divides the world. What happens inside closed-door meetings in Davos or aboard corporate jets at 41,000 feet? Conspiracy or collaboration? Deal-making or idle self-indulgence? What does the rise of Asia and Latin America mean for the conventional wisdom that shapes our destinies? Who sets the rules for a group that operates beyond national laws?

Drawn from exclusive interviews and extensive original reporting, Superclass answers all of these questions as it draws back the curtain on a privileged society that most of us know little about, even though it profoundly affects our everyday lives. It is the first in-depth examination of the connections between the global communities of leaders who are at the helm of every major enterprise on the planet and control its greatest wealth. And it is an unprecedented examination of the trends within the superclass, which are likely to alter our politics, our institutions, and the shape of the world in which we live.


Praise for Superclass

"Mr. Rothkopf's book argues that on many of the most critical issues of our time, the influence of all nation-states is waning, the system for addressing global issues among nation-states is more ineffective than ever, and therefore a power void is being created. This void is often being filled by a small group of players—'the superclass'—a new global elite, who are much better suited to operating on the global stage and influencing global outcomes than the vast majority of national political leaders."—Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

"Mr Rothkopf makes a fascinating tour of the world of the superclass. He opens the door to the office of the head of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, on the top floor of Goldman's tower on New York's Broad Street. He visits the factory that customises Gulfstream jets (every year nearly 10% of Gulfstream's clients attend Davos). He calls on the Carlyle Group where financiers and former presidents get together to make each other richer. And he offers a tour of the weird proceedings of the Bohemian Grove meetings, which Richard Nixon described as 'the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine' . . . Superclass is a pioneering study of a subject that has often been the preserve of conspiracy theorists. Mr Rothkopf is anything but a crank, and he is right when he says that, these days, the most influential people around the world are also the most global people. He is also admirably ambivalent about his subject. He worries about surging inequality—the richest 1% of humans own 40% of the planet's wealth—and about the rumbling backlash against so much unaccountable power. But he points out that, in a world where most global institutions are lumbering and antiquated, members of the superclass have repeatedly stepped in to put the global system to rights. Let us hope that they have not lost their touch."—The Economist

"If you're trying to figure out where to throw your Molotov cocktails, David Rothkopf's book proves you've got your work cut out for you. The businessman and former Clinton official spent years crunching numbers and trailing the 6,000 or so 'power elite' who make most of the decisions about how the planet works. Neither a gossipfest nor an anarchist call to arms, this measured book demonstrates the way these elite businessmen anonymously influence politicians and dictators, and take advantage of international chaos to advance their own interests."—New York magazine

"There are just over 6,000 people in the superclass. So says the author of this fascinating book, a field guide to the world's most élite citizens. See the rich and powerful in their natural habitats, from Davos and Bilderberg to the Bohemian Grove. 'That such a group exists is indisputable,' says Rothkopf, who includes such power brokers as heads of state, CEOs of the world's largest companies, billionaire entrepreneurs and even a handful of terrorist leaders."—Time

"If you want to become as influential a Bill Gates or a Stephen Schwarzman, follow these tips: Be born a male baby boomer, preferably of European stock. Attend an elite college. And don't forget to be rich and lucky. David Rothkopf offers that facetious yet accurate assessment in Superclass, a brainy guide to what the subtitle calls ‘the global power elite and the world they are making.'"—Bloomberg

"[Rothkopf's] analysis is subtle, fascinating and interesting most of all because it is properly historical: that is, he knows things can change. Where he names his 6,000, you find not just the obvious Rupert Murdochs but also Wu Xiaoling—the woman who runs foreign reserves for the People's Bank of China—and other less familiar names. His book is important . . . When you hear a politician promising both cheap homes and to keep house prices high in almost the same breath, you know you're in trouble. When you find one stroking the super-rich and announcing he wants to end poverty and open all careers to all the talents, you know the politician is doing what politicians do best: not thinking. A brief course of Rothkopf on the "Superclass" just might help."—Michael Pye, The Scotsman (London)

"Superclass blends the chitchat of the cult film My Dinner With Andre and the trenchant analysis of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Rothkopf brings us along to dinner, coffee and wine in New York, Chile, Switzerland and Russia to hobnob with world heavyweights. Superclass is highly recommended for readers concerned about the concentration of power."—Lawrence R. Jacobs, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"In Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making, Washington insider David Rothkopf provides an interesting new take on elites, arguing that the proper level of refraction to view elites is now global rather than national, regional or local. Superclass offers a useful and provocative reframing of older work on elites and brings such work up to global speed . . . Superclass gives the rest of us a peek into the lives of those who meet behind closed doors at Davos after flying there on their own Gulfstream G550s."—Peter A. Coclanis, The News Observer

"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 admissions of the shortcomings of neoliberalism carry significant weight."—Todd Tucker, Dissent

"[Rothkopf's] point that globalisation has seriously exacerbated the democratic deficit is well made. As the credit crunch shows so starkly, many businesses and individuals are now able to make decisions that affect billions of people, in many different countries—and our governments, central banks and regulators are unable to keep them in check, acting alone."—Robert Peston, Management Today (London)

"Whether you like it or not, there is no way to deny the enormous, disproportionate, concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a relatively small number of people in the world today. David Rothkopf has vividly described who they are, and how they operate and interact, in his valuable (and often disturbing) new book."—Richard Holbrooke, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

"No, no vast conspiracy runs the world. But, according to Rothkopf's book, a tiny but diverse global elite, a Superclass, comes close. His finely honed prose takes the reader on a joyous, entertaining, and erudite romp around the globe in search of that class."—Alan Blinder, Former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States

"Thanks to Rothkopf's special blend of analysis, direct interaction with his subjects and vivid writing, this is a must read book for people interested in understanding the genesis of leadership in the new global economy."—Ernesto Zedillo, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and Former President of Mexico

"David Rothkopf has written a super book about the people presently executing an historic shift of world economic and political power and about how they are doing it and why. If you want to know how your choices are being determined and the circumstances of your life conditioned, you must read this book."—Clyde Prestowitz, President of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of Three Billion New Capitalists

"The activities of a growing cosmopolitan elite are having profound effects. They can be highly desirable when they promote international cooperation or more problematic when the interests of the elites diverge from those of their citizens. David Rothkopf's Superclass skillfully probes these issues and many more and should be read by all those concerned with the international economy and the evolving global system."—Lawrence Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

"Superclass is a timely and detailed analysis of the disproportionate power and hence responsibility of an incredibly small group of individuals: the global power elites whose strongest allegiances are not with their countries but with each other. Understanding the implications of this shift beyond the nation-state is of great importance and Rothkopf has made a significant first step."—Bob Wright, Vice Chairman, General Electric, and former President and CEO, NBC Universal

"An entertaining and well researched taxonomy of the rich and powerful who shape foreign policy and business in our globalized world. Rothkopf gives us the story behind Davos Man."—Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and author of Making Globalization Work and Globalization and its Discontents

"A masterful portrait of this century's global elite: who they are, how they run the world, and why you should worry about the increasing concentration of influence, wealth and power they represent. An insider and a globalizer himself, Rothkopf knows his people and his politics, and uses history, psychology, economics and a lot of awfully good stories to ask troubling new questions about globalization as we know it. It's smart and it's fun. And if you are a globophile who trusts greater prosperity and stability to disinterested markets, it will make you think again."—Nancy Birdsall, President, Center for Global Development

"In his lively and brilliantly written book Superclass, David Rothkopf has captured the multitude and density of cross-border connections and interactions among the influential, rich and famous throughout the world. He compellingly describes how those links are shaping the global economic and political landscape today—and how they will powerfully influence the future institutions and politics of our planet."—Robert Hormats, Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs (International) and author of The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars

"Some 6,000 people, about one for every million in the world's population, drive the decisions that directly affect the global economic climate in which our governments, corporations, military leaders, technocrats and workers must strive. In other words, they run our lives. So declares Rothkopf, who dubs this elite the 'Superclass.' Members may be found in places like Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum convenes annually, or at gatherings in California's Bohemian Grove, where Republican powerbrokers howl and grunt like Neanderthals. Though international in origin, they share a number of traits: wealth (sometimes mega-wealth), blue-chip educations garnered at world-renowned universities and access to networked ways of getting things done that few of us can even imagine. Key clusters of these individuals comprise the top functionaries of national governments and those who peddle influence among them, the corporate elite, the power media and the military/industrial complex (now far more integrated and tightly knit across national borders). Together they are essentially herding the industrialized nations, including Asian giants China and India, into a corral that the author labels 'global governance.' His book details the means by which they acquire, negotiate and exercise the clout to do this. 'It is hard to ignore the many ways they are the primary beneficiaries of the global order that they shape,' opines Rothkopf, partner in an international consulting firm and a Washington insider in the Clinton Administration who boasts firsthand experience of how power is wielded. An impressively knowledgeable guide to the world's elite and how they have coalesced as a kind of natural order."—Kirkus Reviews

"Books on world elites tend to focus on the super wealthy, but political scholar Rothkopf has written a serious and eminently readable evaluation of the super powerful. Until recent decades, great-power governments provided most of the 'superclass,' accompanied by a few heads of international movements (i.e., the pope) and entrepreneurs (Rothschilds, Rockefellers). Today, economic clout—fueled by the explosive expansion of international trade, travel and communication—rules. The nation state's power has diminished, according to Rothkopf, shrinking politicians to minority power broker status. Leaders in international business, finance and the defense industry not only dominate the superclass, they move freely into high positions in their nations' governments and back to private life largely beyond the notice of elected legislatures (including the U.S. Congress), which remain abysmally ignorant of affairs beyond their borders. The super elites' disproportionate influence over national policy is often constructive, but always self-interested. Across the world, the author contends, few object to corruption and oppressive governments provided they can do business in these countries. Neither hand-wringing nor worshipful, this book delivers an unsettling account of what the immense and growing power of this superclass bodes for the future."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



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  • David Rothkopf

  • David Rothkopf is the author of 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; a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and a teacher of international affairs at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

  • David Rothkopf © Christopher Leaman
    David Rothkopf