— Read this Ezra Klein conversation with Reuters’s Chrystia Freeland, whose new book is called “The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” Freeland:

There’s no one way of seeing the world, and different people are different, but for me, the most vivid statement of the royal jelly view came from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who said if a man is not an oligarch, something is not right with him. The great thing about the Russians is they’ll say that kind of stuff directly. My suspicion is that’s a view quite a few of these people have…
Having said that, one thing I think is to what extent do you feel that the most important measure of value in society is accumulating a fortune. A lot of Americans think that’s really where it’s at. To get back to Romney, that’s where you get the belief that being successful in business qualifies you to be president. What’s interesting to me is that if you talk to the billionaires in other countries that have different social orders, you heard different views on this.
Yuri Millner, the Russian billionaire, set up a prize in theoretical physics where he gave three million bucks each to what he thought were the nine best theoretical physicists in the world. The reason he did that, he said, is that he thinks that the way our society allocates brainpower against work is not ideal. He thinks the work he does is kind of boring and humdrum and doesn’t make that much of a difference in the world but leads to these huge rewards, while in his view, the most defining and important work, the work that makes us human, is grappling with understanding the universe. George Soros will say that he thinks the most important human endeavor is to be a philosopher. You encounter that sentiment less often among the anglo saxons, because we’ve persuaded ourselves that the heroes of our social narrative our businesspeople.

 

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.