The idea that globalizing economic elites had detached themselves from the state and developed a shared, cosmopolitan class consciousness was so commonsensical that it seemed hegemonic when, just over a decade ago, I started working on the project that would turn into this book. Indeed, from Samuel Huntington to Manuel Castells and Marxist sociologists, thinkers from all over the ideological spectrum were—and to an extent, still are—espousing this basic notion of a rootless, ungoverned, and globally minded capitalist class (“elites are cosmopolitan, people are local,” as Castells put it).
Even the prominent economist Lawrence Summers, who served as director of the National Economic Council under then-president Barack Obama, referred to elites as being “stateless.” And as I proceeded, far-right political leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump were also making ever-increasing and ill-intentioned references to shadowy “globalist” elites who were undermining state sovereignty and their nationalist, exclusivist agendas.
Yet surprisingly, I found very little evidence within existing sources for this oft-cited notion of a “transnational” or “global” capitalist class, especially in regard to its identity and the extent to which it perceives itself as belonging to a border-crossing economic elite.
I thus became interested in trying to locate members of this class, which is defined in the literature as having, “spatially and politically, an objective class existence and identity in the global system above any local territories and polities.”
From a (and my) critical political economy perspective, this idea of such a class resonated with how I initially thought about the behavior and beliefs of globalizing economic elites, though I also found it peculiar that so little actual evidence seemed to underlay the general consensus on this issue, and from across the political and ideological spectrum. Additionally, my curiosity was piqued by the fact that anti-neoliberal thinkers, in their description of a free-floating and fully globalized capitalist class, were echoing the discourse espoused in corporate propaganda and by neoliberal theorists themselves, who were arguing vigorously for the desirability of a world order in which capitalist elites exercised greater sovereignty.
I was immediately confronted with thorny methodological and theoretical questions, over which I spent a significant amount of time deliberating, concerning how to identify this class in practice. Determining the extent to which a particular high-level economic actor thinks globally is certainly no straightforward task. Ultimately, exploring their worldviews, motivations, and identities through ethnographic interviews, which I present in the book in the form of vignettes, allows me to tell a much more nuanced story concerning how the would-be members of this class think about themselves and their place in the world.
As a Latin Americanist who is interested in the region’s internal diversity, global embeddedness, and participation in the world economy, I chose to focus on the then-booming commercial relations between Latin America and the Middle East, much of the impulse for which was emanating from Arab-descendant business leaders, and their associated organizations, in Brazil and the Southern Cone in particular. Foregrounding this oft-overlooked Global South (and South-South) case also allowed me to contribute to contemporary efforts to “decolonize” academic knowledge production by examining the question of global-class formation from outside of the usual, Global North locations of interest. The book presents an in-depth analysis of a very particular case, but honing in on it allows me to shed light on a fascinating group of actors about whom relatively little has been published, especially in English, and to put their realities into dialogue with cutting-edge efforts to make sense of and theorize contemporary changes in global capitalism and among global elites.