Sociology is a rather sophisticated method of people watching, but much of the content of our Race Ethnicity and Conflict course has, I fear, been concentrated on watching the wrong people. In any study of human conflict an understanding of the life conditions of history’s victims is important, sure, yet if we are to discover useful remedies for the suffering of the world devoting time to the symptoms is a chocolate teapot. This point was raised early in the course when the question was asked, “Who watches the Watchers?” It was only towards the end of our class on Colonialism and Liberal Intervention that methods of resistence were proposed. Resistence! How long must we resist injustice?
Our disorientating sense of hopelessness, very much the mood of our age, is rooted in confusion. We know and feel the symptoms of the sickness, but the causes hide themselves. While these causes remain largely hidden, curing the disease and recovering hope rests in their discovery. It was into this darkness that Brooke Harrington shone a great light for us. Harrington, an associate professor of Economic Sociology at Copenhagen Business School, spent a number of years – as part of her research – training as a wealth manager, the business of helping the wealthy protect their wealth. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Her insights into the financial behaviour of the super-rich became one of the most profoundly depressing moments of my adult life.
That the wealthiest point-one of the one percent now owns a larger cut of global wealth than it did before the 1929 crash is no accident. Wealth accumulation and management has been a long term strategy of the rich since the birth of capitalism. One of the more recent developments of this strategy has been the development of the professional wealth manager, a consigliere to the fantastically rich, charged with the task of protecting and obfuscating their wealth in ways that continually ensure the undisturbed transfer of money from the bottom to the top.
Here Harrington was talking about wealth in the magnitude of nation states, held by individuals and small, well-connected families. This is the sort of paper money that is measured in tonnage rather than dollars which has accrued to itself the power to take flight to tax havens around the globe in the twinkling of an eye; the type of wealth that buys the influence to dictate to states, and to direct their national and international policy – all to the ends of profit irrespective of the needs of human beings. These money holders are the Watchers who must be watched. If an answer to capitalism exists then it is to be found somewhere in an understanding of what these people do. My only problem with Brooke Harrington’s two hour seminar was that it wasn’t five hours.