The Rothschild brothers didn’t seem like elites when they began their career. Mayer Rothschild began his life living in a Frankfurt ghetto, forced to leave the sidewalk when even a young child ordered him to “Step aside, Jew!” But he was a successful merchant who had the vision to send four of his five sons to the most important cities in Europe.
Mayer's son Nathan Rothschild was in London when the English began their war against Napoleon. This war was incredibly expensive. Coordinating efforts with his brothers, Nathan was able to raise huge sums of money for the British government by selling war bonds throughout Europe – primarily through his brothers in Frankfurt, Paris, Vienna, and Naples. While helping to finance the British government, Nathan made the Rothschild brothers rich and famous. By the time of his death in 1836, he might have had more liquid wealth than anyone in the world. Because they helped to invent modern financial markets, the Rothschild brothers rose from the German ghetto to become elites with power enough to dictate terms to kings.
The Rothschild brothers and others like JP Morgan helped to pioneer modern financial markets. Then, in the next century, philosophers like Keynes, policy-makers like FDR, and business visionaries like Charlie Merrill and Dee Hock “democratized” financial markets, creating access to credit and investment markets for the people. Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke is supposed to manage interest rates and reserve rates so as to do what is best for the general economy and the average person – not just a few powerful bankers. Access to financial markets once reserved for the elites is now considered a right.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Knox were among the revolutionaries who wrested control of the church away from the elites and helped to put it into the hands of the people in the domain of religion.
Later, Louis XIV and Henry VIII help to pioneer the nation-state and then, centuries later, revolutionaries like Jefferson and Franklin wrested control away from the elites and into the hands of the people.
The swings between power held by the elites and the people seem to me inevitable. The elites pioneer and prosper. They are the social inventors who create the great institutions like church, state, and corporation. These individuals deserve fame and fortune. But once those inventions have become an integral part of the social fabric, along come revolutionaries who turn control of these inventions over from the elites to the people.
Next up for Western Civilization? Wresting control away from the CEOs, the last of the monarchs, and putting power into the hands of the investors, employees, and communities whose fate is so inexorably tied up in the actions of the corporation.
Am I a populist or an elitist? A Republican who wants the people’s interest represented by a trusted group of elites or a Democrat who wants the people to directly represent their own interests? At this point in history, I’m a populist, a Democrat ready to see the power of the powerful corporation dispersed.