On December 1st, the New America Foundation hosted a lecture delivered by Janine Wedel about her new book, Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and Free Markets. After being introduced by Policy Director Michael Lind, Janine Wedel described today’s hidden networks of influence and power. Tightly-bound, amorphous, and largely unknown to the public, these networks consist of adaptive, multifaceted power brokers. These power brokers, Wedel stated, have professional roles that are overlapping, mutually influencing, and, most importantly, not fully disclosed to the public. These movers and shakers frequently appear to the public as an objective field expert, yet they often have other unmentioned roles and interests tied directly to the topic at hand. Wedel cautioned that while these influencers are not necessarily engaged in illegal activity, they are deceptive actors that hide their many overlapping interests. By skirting transparency, the current system of power undermines the systems of democracy, government, and free markets.
Wedel concluded her talk by outlining the transformations that created today’s shadowy networks. The first transformation, she argued, was the outsourcing of contracts by the government and a general move towards deregulation. The second was the conclusion of the Cold War which opened up new sparsely-governed areas. The third was the dramatic advancements in technology. These three movements allowed powerful players to straddle political, private, and national borders. Finally, Wedel identified the last catalyst to the creation of today’s power brokers as the embrace of “truthiness”, that is, the preference of more pleasant-sounding truths over hard facts. Together, these four developments have given rise to a clever new elite which crosses industries, professions, and national borders to manipulate events for their own benefit.
--Kalie Pierce, Research Intern with the American Strategy Program