This book is catnip for conspiracy theorists who believe the world is run by a shady cabal of men in suits. The Illuminati.
The New World Order. Le Cercle. Actually, make that men in sneakers and T-shirts.
For Peretti, the new masters of the universe are those geeky but savvy Americans who do digital, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
According to Peretti, eight people own 50 per cent of the world’s wealth – the “have yachts”. Eight people.
There is barely a page of this revelatory book that failed to make me despair. I have never felt so powerless. I farm.
On page 32 I discover that 90 per cent of the world’s entire wheat production is controlled by four companies.
And not only do ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus (“ABCD”) do back-room deals to buy and sell grain, they also gamble on the future price of cereals, leading to rises in food prices.
The Arab Spring of 2010 was sparked by Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi immolating himself in protest at the price increases caused in part by ABCD. Barack Obama denounced ABCD as “immoral” yet was unwilling to take them on.
Peretti is no conspiracy loon, though he sometimes attributes problems to the deliberate actions of individuals. The author puts “the death of cash” – the move to credit cards and online bank transfers – down to “a plan”, namely Musk bankrolling nerds to create PayPal. But I had a MasterCard in the 1980s, two decades prior.
What is fiendishly clever about the new capitalism is the way that it appears benign. Nestlé sends a boat up the Amazon handing out chocolate, ice cream and baby milk to indigenous peoples. And high-street coffee chains call their employees “baristas”, which sounds skilled, artisanal. Truth is baristas are largely immigrant workers often lured into debt to pay city rents.
Is there any hope? Karl Marx claimed the proletariat as the revolutionary class.
But in 2007, the Ministry of Defence claimed that the “middle classes could become a revolutionary class”. Yes, the middle class are so squeezed that they may take to the barricades.
Done: The Secret Deals That Are Changing Our World by Jacques Peretti (Hodder & Stoughton, £20)