When you hear the word anti-globalization, you usually think of shattered Starbucks windows and stringy-haired kids carrying on some pantomime of the sixties. But suddenly, the movement seems to have gone glam on us, with people like Nobel-laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and billionaire currency speculator George Soros jumping on the bandwagon.
And next week, the city gets its chance to meet the movement’s first rock star (Bono aside): Noreena Hertz, a certified infobabe who casually inserts statistics into a conversation the way socialites drop names.
Hertz will be in town to promote her new book, The Silent Takeover, a passionate argument against the antidemocratic grip of multinational corporations. (Her best fun fact: Of the world’s 100 largest economic units, 51 are not countries but corporations.)
At 33, Hertz is anti-globalism’s Jane Fonda or Angela Davis, an earnest, attention-grabbing spokeswoman who just happens to look great in leather pants. “A year ago, I’d never spoken publicly,” she says, demurely confirming that she now gets ten invitations a day. “I debate government ministers on a fortnightly basis.”
The daughter of Israelis who immigrated to London, Hertz got her M.B.A. from Wharton in 1991, with dreams of becoming an independent movie producer (“Going to America was the first step in going Hollywood”). But she deferred a job at William Morris in L.A. to work in Russia on a professor’s pet project: nurturing markets in the post-Soviet economy. “I was working on a commodities exchange,” Hertz says. “But the only things being exchanged were cigarettes and funeral urns in what looked like a school gymnasium.”
Nonetheless, Hertz discovered she had a taste for the gritty details of economic life. Her stint in Russia resulted in a book and a project assessing the economic needs of the Palestinians. Then came The Silent Takeover, which, for all its senior-thesis-like qualities, is a readable primer on the ungoverned role of corporations in establishing and policing the New World Order.
In Britain last year, Hertz became a nearly constant presence during election season with a best-selling book and tone-setting television documentary on the dangers of corporate power.
The book, and the accompanying fame, has dramatically altered the circles she travels in. At last year’s Davos meeting in Switzerland, she was outside the perimeter, cheering on the protesters; this year, she was inside the Waldorf, consorting with foreign ministers and Saudi princes. “I see myself as part of a broad movement,” she says. “On the one hand, there are the people in the streets in Seattle, Genoa, and Prague; on the other hand, Joseph Stiglitz and George Soros.”
Still, her rapid change in status has left her more bemused than anything else. “I don’t know how much time I have with this level of access,” she says. “I’ve never been at all strategic about my career.”