The new edition of the Economist has an in-depth special report on global leaders. The writing manages to transport you to the buzzing activity of highly achieving individuals throughout the world, and, in the process, allows you to wrestle with such varied issues as heredity, meritocracy, fairness and philanthropy, globalisation and tribes, and above all, just what the way society operates in the 2011 means for us all.
You would be glad to hear that the main message is positive. A thread of celebration of a new age, a new dawn, where merit rules supreme, and the old order based on hereditary claims of status is gone, runs throughout the special report. Look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, argues the Economist, who by sheer power of intellect managed to transformed our world.
Yet all these examples involve success made out of the technological revolution, which has opened the door for many to become filthy rich, as the industrial revolution did for their predecessors. Outside of the Information Technology sector, however, examples are absent, save for Barack Obama, who again is used to illustrate the power of transformation of technology in politics and activism.
Examples illustrating the contrary are subtly ignored. In Great Britain for example, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the two most powerful political figures in the country, as well as numerous cabinet members, are royal blue blood, descended from long dead kings, who speak almost as posh-ly as the Queen, and were educated at elite private schools such as Eton and Oxford— one of the most elite universities in the world.
The Economist ignores these details, for the theme is one of a meritocratic elite, to whom we the people have given power and whom we keep in check by taking such power away. We can stop buying Microsoft products, spending time on Facebook, or searching on Google, and thus stop making their founders richer and stop giving them more influence.