Of robber barons, monopsonists, and oligarchs, in which it’s revealed that the free market is anything but free.
Want to become “obscenely” rich, as the subtitle of this illuminating book has it? Well, the best bet is to be born that way. The next best bet is to have a “wealth secret,” the better-mousetrap sine qua non for building an empire. Economic forecaster Wilkin, head of business research at Oxford Economics, has good fun looking at how some fabulously rich people got to be that way. Though he teases a bit with the thought that you and I can “exploit their wealth secrets to become fabulously rich” as well, in the end, his book becomes a subtle, between-the-lines indictment of capitalism as it is mostly practiced these days. For instance, as Wilkin notes, the aspiring wealthy person doesn’t want a level playing field—far from it. Nor does he or she want competition, for competition is messy and tedious, and “when masters of wealth secrets compete, they do not compete in the market” but instead, the courtroom and other arenas where they can effectively destroy their enemies without having to face them on the shelves and divide the market. This was the way of the great 19th-century robber barons, too, as with John D. Rockefeller, “strangling his competitors with cartels,” and his ilk, who regarded competition as “that oppressive force that prevents great men from achieving fortunes commensurate with their greatness.” Thus it is in emerging markets, where Wilkin counsels would-be monopolists to head, since corrupt political systems favor creative and extralegal ways of securing the startup money necessary to become a tycoon. And besides, he writes, “it’s good to go where no one else wants to go.”
Against this backdrop, so-called natural monopolies like Microsoft look benign. Eye-opening and sure to make libertarian heads explode.