Loads-a-money

The Super-Rich

Stephen Haseler <em>Macmillan Press, pp232, £16.99</em>

ISBN 0333764293

Kind readers sometimes flatter a journalist by saying how much they liked his last article, and then proceed to spoil the effect by adding the fatal words: "I was only saying the same thing to my wife the day before." Depressing as such faint praise is about a single article, how much more so must it be about a whole book. Nevertheless, in the case of Professor Stephen Haseler's most recent work - which argues that the only way to defend ourselves against unbridled global capitalism is to cleave Europe - I feel bound to compliment him in an equally irritating fashion by saying that his thesis is exactly the same, except for the superior quality and completeness of his argument, as a very recent Spectator article of mine. Needless to say, this strange parallelism of opinion - Haseler being a dyed-in-the-wool social democrat and I a true blue Tory - is entirely fortuitous and coincidental; and for me, at any rate, also enormously comforting, like a soldier hearing his own little-heard favourite tune echoing back from the enemy lines.

Little-heard? Surely, worries about global capitalism, you will object, are heard all the time from every quarter? Up to a point, yes, but with nothing like the same urgency as Haseler brings to the subject. I agree with him that global capitalism, unless bridled, may constitute even more of a potential shadow over the 21st century than totalitarian communism did over the 20th; not because this new materialist ideology is remotely as malign as its predecessor, but precisely because it is so relatively benign that nobody will take the trouble to oppose it effectively.

Yes, runs the consensus, this new global capitalist class of mega-rich over-lords - as powerful, majestic and anti-democratic as any in history, and, unlike their predecessors, owing no loyalty to any single nation or community - could indeed be potentially dangerous. But as it is only concerned with making money, there is no real cause to worry. Closing countryside banks or motor car factories so as to maximise profits, after all, is much better than opening gulags or concentration camps.

Yes, the consensus continues, the increasing job insecurity of pretty well everyone except the top global capitalists - and those who service them - is indeed socially demoralising, destructive of all corporate loyalty and comradeship. But again, compared to the kind of insecurity associated with totalitarianism, nothing much to worry about. As for the growing inequality between the new super-rich and even the old middle class (let alone the new underclass), that problem, they assure us, can be taken care of without frightening the shareholders, by Tony Blair's Third Way - the 21st-century equivalent of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement umbrella. In short, they conclude cheerfully, taken all in all and judged realistically, the present combination of global capitalism and liberal democracy is the best of all possible worlds, and everything in it is only a necessary evil.

How can such unprecedented complacency be explained? Partly, in my view, by the extent to which those who now write in the media - the kind of clever literati who in the 1930s would have been pro-communist - are now the beneficiaries of global capitalism, to a degree that never used to be the case in the old days. I write here from personal experience. Thanks to the Telegraph Group being taken over in the late 1980s by Conrad Black, I, along with other senior executives, were given share options that suddenly rocketed us upwards into a degree of affluence beyond the dream of avarice of any earlier generation of journalists. Out of the blue, we all got our hands on great lumps of capital that have put us at least onto the lower reaches of the super-rich. So, naturally, we are grateful, as we jolly well should be. Whereas writing for nearly half a century for the old Telegraph would have left me in retirement with scarcely a penny to rub together, working for six years for Black has left me quite literally a millionaire, and if this is true of me, it is even truer of the present lot of editors and columnists, not only of those who work for Black and Rupert Murdoch, but for those who work for the media generally. No group of employees has benefited more from global capitalism than opinion- formers. It is not in the least surprising that, on the left as much as on the right - no names, no pack drill - few are at all anxious to look such a magnificently generous (to those who service it) gift horse in the mouth.

Except, according to Haseler, in Social Democratic western Europe, which is still refusing to surrender to global capitalism; as also, I would add, is Christian Democratic Europe, if only because France's traditional suspicion of Anglo-Saxons has made her governing class uniquely resistant to the Thatcher- Reagan cost-cutting ideology. Will they, too, be forced by global economic pressure to come into line? Not necessarily, argues Haseler. A European superstate, because of history, culture and even economic strength, just might be able to carve out for itself a less materialist and more civilised way forward.

It goes without saying that most reviewers will pan this book - if it is ever reviewed at all - which is why, in my view, it should be essential reading.