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Do the global elite serve the masses?

That's the motion of the current debate hosted by The Economist. It features Jamie Whyte, who argues "for", and Daniel Ben-Ami, who argues "against". This topic was also the conclusion to a January 20th special feature in the magazine on global leaders.

Ben-Ami's argument is not a simplistic, "the rich are bastards" one. Instead, he contends:

The culture of limits is mainstream within the elite nowadays rather than the preserve of "tree huggers" or "deep greens". National legislation and international agreements institutionalise the notions of restraint and precaution in many different ways. A lot of wealthy individuals also back organisations that propagate such ideas while celebrities often provide their public face. Together they rail against what they see as excessive consumption and back those who argue that the masses should curb their appetites. Often they snobbishly deride those who revel in popular consumption as "chavs" or "Nascar dads".

In many ways this can be seen as a form of protectionism by the elite. Rather than spread the benefits of prosperity more widely, they want to keep scarce resources for themselves.

Under such circumstances any progress that does occur is often in spite of, rather than because of, elite activity. By embracing the culture of limits the Western elite hold back human progress.

This is consistent with his argument in Ferraris for All, to which I gave a big thumbs up in my review last year. So far, Ben-Ami is winning by a huge margin, 83% to 17%.

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