A Tory critique of inequality and greed

Chief executives of major companies have accumulated almost unprecedented power, warns Ferdinand Mount in his book 'The New Few'.


"Do you remember the great economic crash of 2008?" asks Andrew Anthony in The Guardian. You'd think it would have provided ample ammunition for profound financial services industry reforms. Yet "in the years that followed...scarcely anything has changed in the City".

Why? Ferdinand Mount's new book suggests that the chief executives of major companies, particularly in the financial industry, have been allowed to accumulate almost unprecedented power, giving them "free rein to shape corporate policies with profound social and economic implications".

Mount, the author of the Conservatives' 1983 election manifesto, "is no rabid anti-capitalist, but a 72-year-old conservative". However, his calls, "for a little more equal distribution of wealth" as well as power, make him something of a radical compared to the current crop of conservative politicians.

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Charles Moore, writing in The Daily Telegraph, notes that a key message of Mount's book is the dangers inherent in a loss of accountability. Oligarchy (where a few firms dominate a market) "cuts off the power of the wider society to arraign the people who are making the mistakes. Oligarchs, even well-intentioned ones, cease to receive the information they need to detect their own error."

Mount "extends the thesis well beyond the banks". Indeed, "against his will", he follows the argument to where it logically ends in Brussels. Although pro-European himself, "Mount does recognise that oligarchy is not a late deformity of the EU, but essential from its beginnings".

Rod Liddle writing in The Sunday Times and the New Statesman's John Gray suggest that Mount's emphasis on inequality can't be separated from our society's concentration and centralisation of power. At the top of the economic ladder this has inevitably led to rampant greed. "Trends such as the diminishing role of shareholders and the collectivisation of savings by pension funds and insurance companies worked to concentrate economic power while removing constraints on how that power could be used." For those left behind, "the concentration of power into fewer hands and the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, find expression in the sort of riots we saw in Britain last summer".

Criticism of The New Few is relatively sparse, but there are some complaints. Anthony, for example, queries the use of the term "oligarchy" and suggests that "plutocracy would have been a better term". Meanwhile, Gray thinks Mount goes too far when he compares the current state of Britain to the Soviet Union before its collapse. But those gripes aside, according to Liddle this is a devastating account of inequality and greed, all the more so coming from a high Tory.

The New Few: Or a Very British Oligarchy by Ferdinand Mount. Published by Simon & Schuster, £18.99.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri