Collusion — and conflicts of interest — between politicians and billionaires now operate across borders. When he was president, Nicolas Sarkozy reserved special favours for the Qataris (including a tax exemption on their highest-value property purchases). Qatar is now prepared to back him in starting a private equity fund. “The fact that he is a former president doesn’t mean he should become a Trappist monk,” said former interior minister Claude Guéant in his defence (11). Nor does a vow of chastity apply in the cases of other former leaders: Tony Blair advises J P Morgan, Belgian Jean-Luc Dehaene is on the Dexia payroll and Italy’s Giuliano Amato works for Deutsche Bank. Is it possible to defend the public good while simultaneously avoiding displeasing feudal foreign regimes or financial institutions which may become one’s future employers? When, in a growing number of countries, such a self-interested calculation involves both main parties, they become, as far as the people are concerned, what novelist Upton Sinclair called “the two wings of the same bird of prey”.
Demos sought to gauge the effects of the close relationship between government officials and the economic oligarchy. Two months ago it published a report detailing “how the dominance of politics by the affluent and business undermines economic mobility in America” (12). Their conclusion: in matters of social and economic policy and labour law, the wealthiest citizens share priorities which are largely different from those of the majority of their fellow citizens. But of course the rich have unusual means by which to bring their aspirations to fruition.