Shadow Elites

Who are “shadow elites?”

Today’s top power bro­kers, shadow elites debuted with the pri­va­ti­za­tion of gov­ern­ment, the dif­fu­sion of global author­ity, and new infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies over the past sev­eral decades. Shadow elites move seam­lessly across (often not-fully-revealed) roles in gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, think tanks, and national bor­ders in pur­suit of their own agen­das. Often, they work together in exclu­sive net­works to serve their own goals. Their influ­ence is scarcely con­veyed by their titles. Shadow elites test both the state’s rules of account­abil­ity and the free market’s rules of com­pe­ti­tion. Shadow elites are less sta­ble, less vis­i­ble, more peri­patetic, and more global in reach than their power-broker forebears.

No mat­ter what arena(s) they oper­ate in, the cachet of these new power bro­kers is in infor­ma­tion: their access to and con­trol of offi­cial (or should-be offi­cial) infor­ma­tion, their abil­ity to use infor­ma­tion gleaned in one venue in other venues, their skill at get­ting their own ver­sions of the truth branded as the most author­i­ta­tive offi­cial ver­sion, and their abil­ity to brand for the media and pub­lic both the infor­ma­tion they have access to and their own activ­i­ties to suit their own agen­das. The prob­lem for demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety is that the pub­lic has no way of know­ing these play­ers’ true agen­das. They are poten­tially more insid­i­ous and dan­ger­ous to democ­racy because the full range of their activ­i­ties and their true agen­das are more dif­fi­cult to detect. Jour­nal­ist and audi­tors – who have lim­ited juris­dic­tion – are no match for shadow elites who are all over the map – literally.

Below is a descrip­tion of the book Shadow Elite.


How the World’s New Power Bro­kers Under­mine Democ­racy,
Gov­ern­ment, and the Free Market

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Shadow Elite is out in

(Basic Books, Decem­ber 1, 2009)

Janine R. Wedel

Gov­ern­ments and admin­is­tra­tions come and go, but not so a new breed of power bro­kers, who always seem to pop up just where the action is. Wear­ing dif­fer­ent hats, they press their agen­das in venue after venue. Accord­ing to award-winning pub­lic pol­icy scholar and anthro­pol­o­gist Janine Wedel, these are the “shadow elite,” the prime movers in a vex­ing new sys­tem of power and influence.

Wedel charts how these play­ers make pub­lic deci­sions with­out pub­lic input—in realms from domes­tic to for­eign and finan­cial pol­icy. Maneu­ver­ing through their many spheres of influ­ence, they chal­lenge both gov­ern­ments’ rules of account­abil­ity and busi­nesses’ codes of com­pe­ti­tion, ulti­mately answer­ing only to each other. From the Har­vard econ­o­mists who helped pri­va­tize post-Soviet Rus­sia and the neo­con­ser­v­a­tives who helped pri­va­tize Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy for thirty years (cul­mi­nat­ing with the deba­cle that is Iraq) to many lesser-known global oper­a­tors, these play­ers flout once-sacrosanct bound­aries between state and pri­vate, bureau­cracy and mar­ket. This new breed, unseen by most, is steadily gain­ing power.

Orig­i­nal and eye-opening, Shadow Elite gives us the tools we need to rec­og­nize these play­ers and under­stand the new system—which we ignore at our peril.