Book Check: "Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market"

Book Title: Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market by Janine R. Weidel

Rating Using Random Objects Related to the Book's Subject: 4.25 "Flexians" out of 5.

What's a Flexian? A flexian and their networks -- flex nets -- are the new shadow elite. This is because they have mastered so many different roles they "operate at the nexus of official and private power" and use their power to manipulate situations to their own financial or ideological goals.

A Brief Plot Synopsis: Differing groups of flex nets, working in and through private industry, NGOs, government and related institutions have discovered a way around the rules and regulations, such as they are, governing conflicts of interests, lobbying and securities regulations. This can be seen particularly in the case of what happened in the former-Soviet Union Russian when "democracy" and the "free market" were supposed to be put in place there by flexians (failure) and the neocon flexians' drive to remake the Middle East via the War in Iraq (also, a failure).

Subtitle: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market

Better Subtitle: Your Vote and Your Existence Don't Mean Much; Actually, They Mean Nothing.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Like any good academic, Wedel must "name" the phenomenon she is talking about, thus we get the terms "flexian" and "flex nets." After defining the terms, she gives a few examples of flexians, in rough sketch (e.g., retired Gen. Barry McCaffery, ex-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder).

Next, she has a chapter that might be aptly titled "Let Me Tell You About the Time I Spent in Poland as a Researcher." (This chapter can be skipped). Wedel's true contribution -- and it is no small contribution -- is to delve deeply into what happened in post-Soviet Union Russia when a team from Harvard led the effort to turn Russia into a market democracy. Next, Wedel's chapter on the flex net group of neocons and their influence on the U.S. going to war in Iraq is simply scary -- in short, a small group of deeply committed ideologues were responsible for the War in Iraq. The final chapter is the always necessary "how can we solve this problem?" chapter.

"Critical" Analysis: Wedel is good at letting the facts do the talking and letting the reader draw the (obvious) conclusions -- a great example of "show, don't tell" writing. This is especially true in the Russia democratization chapter and the neocon chapter. The Russian chapter is appalling, but a wonderful case study in flexians and their ability to manipulate. In sum, a small group of players with a connection to Harvard essentially handed out the spoils of Russia's government run industries to a favored few, enriching themselves creating "a virtual open shop for thievery at a national level and for capital flight in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the raping of national resources." Despite investigations by the DOJ and others, all escaped with their careers and reputations intact in no small part due to Larry Summers. And you won't be surprised to learn that the Harvard endowment management company somehow found a way to make a money on their Russian investments.

The chapter on the War on Iraq is even worse. To sum it up it one sentence -- and the chapter must be read to be believed -- a group of about twelve neocons were almost solely responsible for the intellectual framework, rotten intelligence and media brow-beating that led us into war.

Wedel's fluff to get the book to a publishable length (see the chapter on Poland) is a quibble. The rest of the book's eye-opening insights into the flex nets that exercise outsize control with no real oversight deserve wide circulation.

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