The 0.1 Percent

For the super-elite, a sense of meritocratic achievement can inspire self-regard, and that self-regard — especially when compounded by their isolation among likeminded peers — can lead to obliviousness and indifference to the suffering of others.

Eric Schmidt, by then the chairman of Google, admitted to a journalist in December 2011 that no one in his world thought much about Occupy Wall Street and the discontent of the 99 percent. “We live in a bubble,” he said. “And I don’t mean a tech bubble or a valuation bubble. I mean a bubble as in our own little world. . . . Companies can’t hire people fast enough. Young people can work hard and make a fortune. Homes hold their value.” What is striking about those remarks is that the unemployment rate in Santa Clara County, where Google’s Mountain View campus is located, was 8.6 percent, slightly higher than the national average. And some of the most violent and controversial Occupy demonstrations were in Oakland, a 45-minute drive from Schmidt’s office.

Chrystia Freeland has talked to a lot of billionaires over the last two decades, and now has a new book out about the 0.1 percent. Reuters has an excerpt from Freeland’s book, which takes a look at the bubble the super-rich enclose themselves in, why so many giants who work in finance have come to “hate” President Obama even though the $700 billion TARP bailout saved them, and why some of them understand that they’re contributing to the plight of the American middle class, but feel okay about it (“‘His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,’ the CEO recalled.”)

Photo: Guillaume Paumier, Friedman Thomas, ToddABishop

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