A sardonic spoof of business books that lambasts the superrich.
In this cleverly structured, darkly humorous book, portfolio manager/investment banker Stevenson (Cynicism, 2016) writes from a first-person perspective, as if he’s a billionaire candidly revealing his worldview. The resulting mock “handbook” begins with an overview of what he calls “The Old Rules.” In it, the narrator breaks economic history into three main periods: Mercantilism, Capitalism, and Cynicism—the latter of which, he says, is the “new economic system” that has replaced capitalism. Thirty “New Rules” of the post-capitalistic economy follow, each of which Stevenson outlines in biting, satirical text. For example, Rule 15 says that “a CEO’s value is measured by how much of their company’s cash they can get away with transferring into my bank account,” while Rule 22 proclaims, “if you pay someone enough you can always get the answer you are looking for.” Each of the rules, just a few paragraphs long, follows a similarly humorous path. The second part of the book is even darker in tone, as the narrator claims that the 2008 financial meltdown allowed billionaires to tap into “newfound fear and anxiety”: “Then we elected one of our own the President of the United States, and before you knew it, we were right back on track.” (An accompanying illustration shows a Donald Trump–like figure on a throne.) The narrator then proceeds to deliver 25 more rules that take aim at current issues and beliefs with uproarious cynicism. The author addresses health care, immigration, “fake news,” and other topics, depicting billionaires as narcissistic, hardhearted, and morally corrupt. One rule, for instance, advises that “empathy is the enemy of ‘the people’ and by ‘the people’ I mean rich people,” while another observes that “a shrinking middle class is great for lowering your company’s wage bills.”
The book’s closing section, “A Few Years Later,” offers readers a novel contrast; in it, the billionaire narrator has retired and has decided that he’d like to be remembered as “The Greatest American of the 21st Century.” The 20 rules that he puts forth at this point reflect the actions of a more compassionate, philanthropic, and socially conscious person; ironically, however, he offers these rules solely in a personal bid for immortality. Overall, there are several elements that make this parody stand out. The voice of the narrator, for one, is spot-on, brilliantly portraying a self-involved and exceedingly callous caricature of a modern-day magnate. Despite occasional grammatical errors, the text is consistently cunning and merciless, and it’s made all the more effective by the inclusion of vibrant, colorful illustrations that cleverly reinforce the content throughout. The last section of the book shrewdly presents what American society could possibly be like if the people in it followed moral tenets of justice and fair play. Overall, this is a tour de farce that offers an unrelentingly amoral, profit-driven characterization of a billionaire, and as with all potent satires, the author’s words hit the mark more often than not.
A wicked and witty work.
The Billionaires' Handbook: A User’s Guide to Wealth and Power
by Andrew Stevenson
book review by Mihir Shah
"If you never mean what you are saying, you are never saying anything."
Stevenson’s handbook simplifies economic complexities through visual storytelling. Though there are short snippets of written guidance, the tongue-and-cheek humor of the illustrations is at the forefront. More than anything else, Stevenson takes intricate topics like mercantilism and capitalism and packages them with the entertainment and ease-of-readability of a children’s book.
From the get-go, it is clear that the billionaire club is all about rules—creating them in particular. The opening sets of rules, structured like a graphic novel, are particularly intriguing as they personify the rise and demise of the pillars of our global economy over the last half millennia: feudalism, mercantilism, capitalism, and, finally, the present era of cynicism.
Where this handbook specifically excels is in taking dry concepts like absentee citizenship, rising output, and supply and demand and injecting enough humor to engage and interest the reader. For instance, the image of billionaires being welcomed to Taxhavia is hilarious and provides a picture-perfect understanding of absentee citizenship. Rules that stand out include “Rule 1” in the new rules where a Matrix-style battle against taxes is coupled with phrases like “Remember, it’s not cheating if you make it legal” and “Rule 7” where distractions and media are depicted through a man seemingly doing Pilates on a split Twinkie.
Although some of the rules, ironically represented by blindfolded characters in the illustrations, are eye-opening and somewhat contentious, the good-natured humor and intent to deliver information is genuine. Beneath the layers of humor and personification lies sound advice such as allocating college tuition money in a retirement account, being environmentally conscious, and being wary of artificial intelligence. True to form, this handbook is a magnet for accruing wealth and power. It is both humorous and informative and likely to be appreciated by those with a particularly competitive mindset and drive.