digital capitalism, the great levelling and the moral agency of elites

I’ve been thinking recently about forms of moral self-understanding amongst elites and how they change over time. I’m particularly interested in how those in the tech sector make sense of their own actions. But there’s a broader background here, in which ‘globalisation’ is seen and justified in explicitly moral terms. For instance, this passage from Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich pg 26-27:

The irony today is that the real internationalists are no longer the bleeding- heart liberals; they are the cutthroat titans of capital. Here, for instance, is what Steve Miller, the chairman of insurance giant AIG and one of Detroit’s legendary turnaround bosses (he wrote a bestselling memoir called The Turnaround Kid ), had to say to me at Davos about globalization and jobs: “ Well, first off, as a citizen of the world , I think everyone around the world, no matter what country they’re in, should have the opportunities that we have gotten used to in the United States. Globalization is here. It’s a fact of life; it’s not going away. And it does mean that for different levels of skill there’s going to be something of a leveling out of pay scales that go with it, particularly for jobs that are mobile, if the products can be moved, which is not everything.”

And from page 29:

Mr. O’Neill concludes his book with a heartfelt rebuttal of the gloomsters, with their emphasis on rising national income inequality and the hollowing out of the Western middle class: This is an exciting story . It goes far beyond business and economics. We are in the early years of what is probably one of the biggest shifts of wealth and income disparity ever in history. It irritates me when I hear and read endless distorted stories of how only a few benefit and increase their wealth from the fruits of globalization, to the detriment of the marginalized masses. Globalization may widen inequality within certain national borders, but on a global basis it has been a huge force for good, narrowing inequality among people on an unprecedented scale. Tens of millions of people from the BRICs and beyond are being taken out of poverty by the growth of their economies. While it is easy to focus on the fact that China has created so many billionaires, it should not be forgotten that in the past fifteen or so years, 300 million or more Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. … We at Goldman Sachs estimate that 2 billion people are going to be brought into the global middle class between now and 2030 as the BRIC and N- 11 economies develop. … Rather than be worried by such developments, we should be both encouraged and hopeful. Vast swaths of mankind are having their chance to enjoy some of the fruits of wealth creation. This is the big story.

From pg 45:

The global capitalist boom has allowed some people at the bottom of even the most traditionally stratified societies to rise to the top. Consider the small but growing community of plutocratic Dalits, the Indian caste once known as the untouchables. In some parts of rural India, Dalits are still not allowed to drink from the village well, and Dalit children are segregated in a special corner of their schoolrooms, lest their spiritual taint contaminate their higher- caste classmates. But India now has Dalit multimillionaires, like Ashok Khade, owner of a company that builds and refurbishes offshore drilling rigs, and subject of a recent front- page profile in the New York Times . As one Dalit businessman told a reporter, “ We are fighting the caste system with capitalism .”

And a slightly different spin on this on pg 55-56:

Another way to believe our plutocrats are heroes battling for the collective good is to think of capitalism as a liberation theology— free markets equal free people, as the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal asserts. One of the most convincing settings for this vision is Moscow, where in October 2010 you could hear it ringingly delivered by Pitch Johnson, one of the founders of the venture capital business in Silicon Valley, in a public lecture to business school students about capitalism and innovation. Johnson, who was a fishing buddy of Hewlett- Packard cofounder Bill Hewlett, is a genial octogenarian with a thick white head of hair, glasses, and a Santa Claus waistline. He has made something of a project of Russia, having traveled there twenty times since 1990 (he got a particular kick out of flying his private jet into what was then still Soviet airspace). As Johnson tells it, capitalism is about more than making money for yourself— it is about liberating your country. “ Those of you who practice economic freedom will also cause your country to have more political freedom,” Johnson promised with great enthusiasm. “I would call you the revolutionaries of this era of your country.”

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