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Reflections on the Upper Crust

By Darrell M. West

The top one percent own about one-third of the assets in America and 40 percent of assets around the world. This concentration of financial resources in many countries gives the ultra-rich extraordinary influence over elections, public policy, and governance.

In his new book, Darrell M. West analyzes the growing political activism of billionaires and how they have created more activist forms of politics and philanthropy based on their net worth. With this “wealthification” of politics and society, it is important to understand how this concentration of wealth affects system performance as well as social and economic opportunity.

Through personal interactions and rich anecdotes, West takes us inside the world of the super-wealthy through a balanced and insightful analysis of U.S. billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Peter Thiel, Donald Trump and Tom Steyer. And looking abroad, West analyzes the billionaires who have run for office in nations such as Austria, Australia, France, Georgia, India, Italy, Russia, Thailand, and the Ukraine. From oligarchs in Russia and Eastern Europe to princelings in China, tycoons raise important questions about political influence, transparency, accountability, and government performance. This book argues that countries need policies that promote better transparency, governance, and opportunity.

Advance Praise

“F. Scott Fitzgerald taught us that the very rich are different from the rest of us. Now Darrell West has taken us on a thoughtful romp through the world of our new billionaire class. At a moment when we have read both glorifications and denunciations of those with unimaginably large fortunes, West has set out to understand and explain who they are and what they do. He couples a moral concern for the cost of rising inequality with a scholar’s commitment to telling the story straight. This is both an important book and a good read.”

—E.J. Dionne, Georgetown University

“As a free-market conservative who hopes to see more money invested in politics, not less, I disagree with many of Darrell West’s attitudes and arguments. His book BILLIONAIRES is nonetheless a fresh, thought-provoking, clear-eyed view of a bitterly controversial subject, demonstrating that that the prominent participation of plutocrats in politics is a worldwide, and not just American, phenomenon. Even those who reject West’s conclusions will enjoy the crisp, readable, and passionately personal style he deploys to make his points.”

—Michael Medved, nationally syndicated talk radio host

“In the United States and across the world, billionaires are front and center in politics — running for office, bankrolling campaigns and lobbies, pushing policy messages. With a riveting mix of facts and stories, Darrell West tells us who these new plutocrats are, what they think about politics, and how they manuever to get what they want. West faces the tough ethical issues, too, and asks whether watchdogs can still bark at billionaires operating in secret. BILLIONAIRES is a must read for all who care about the future of democracy.”

—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

“The saddest sight in American politics is a U.S. Senator begging a billionaire for his crumbs.”

—Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s Hardball

“‘Are the super-wealthy different from you and me?’ asks Darrell West. Different or not, they are shaping our world, sometimes for the better (when they invent new things), but often for the worse, when they undermine democracy, use government to enrich themselves, and create a culture of social separatism and uber-success. Unless you are indifferent to this new world, you should read West’s book.”
—Branko Milanovic, author of The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality

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