Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

The Billionaires Are Stealing The Wealth Of The Rest Of Us

So The Guardian would have us believe as they breathlessly report on a wealth study from UBS. What is actually being shown is that the world is becoming richer. Therefore there are more billionaires – just as that increasing wealth also produces fewer poor people. That being the way it goes, poverty being an absence of moolah, if there’s more moolah around there will be fewer poor and more rich people. This isn’t the most difficult concept in the world but it does seem to escape many:

Billionaires made more money in 2017 than in any year in recorded history. The richest people on Earth increased their wealth by a fifth to $8.9tn (£6.9tn), according to a report by Swiss bank UBS.

The fortunes of today’s super-wealthy have risen at a far greater rate than at the turn of the 20th century, when families such as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast wealth. The report by UBS and accountants PwC said there was so much money in the hands of the ultra-rich that a new wave of rich and powerful multi-generational families was being created.

Well, no, not really. What’s actually happening is that there are more rich people around:

The world’s 2,158 billionaires grew their combined wealth by $1.4tn last year, more than the GDP of Spain or Australia, as booming stock markets helped the already very wealthy to achieve the “greatest absolute growth ever”.

More than 40 of the 179 new billionaires created last year inherited their wealth,

Doing some fairly heroic rounding the number of billionaires has gone up 10%. Thus the amount of wealth in the hands of billionaires has gone up. We’re surprised, right? As to that class making more money than ever before, that’s a surprise too, right? For each particular dollar is worth less than it was – thanks for the inflation, governments – and the world is richer. Some 3 or 4% richer than it was last year in fact in real terms, after we deal with that inflation. Which is rather the thing that we’re aiming to achieve with this having an economy thing in the first place. The number of poor people also declined this past year as that greatest reduction in human poverty in the history of our species continues.

Thus all of this is normal, not surprising.

and given the number of billionaires over 70 the report’s authors expect a further $3.4tn to be handed down over the next 20 years.

And? Assume, again heroic rounding, that 10% of household wealth turns over each decade as we on average live a century. US household wealth alone is some $100 trillion. That doesn’t include anything the government owns, doesn’t include the most important form of capital, human, and doesn’t include anything owned by peeps outside the US. We’d thus expect some $20 trillion to be passed on in those two decades to come. This report, The Guardian, is worrying about 15% of that. We’re horrified, right?

And note that we’ve got some 20% of those new billionaires inheriting, 80% odd are going out and creating new wealth which they own. Something subject to the Nordhaus point that entrepreneurs only get to keep some 3% of the total value created by their innovations. We might even try to ignore those evolution prompted desires of people to make sure their kids are provided for and insist that inheritance is terrible. But it still sure looks like it’s a sideshow to reality, which is that the vast majority of this plutocratic wealth is being created, not inherited.

UBS said the adage that the first generation makes the fortune, the second generation preserves it and the third generation squanders no longer applies. Some families have kept vast fortunes for five or six generations, and some heirs have even increased the overall fortune, the report said.

Snigger, it’s an adage, a folk wisdom form of probability, nowt more. The Grosvenors – well, actually, a tiny and small part of the line but – have kept their wealth for 4 centuries and ongoing so far. That didn’t stop the Tennants losing it in three generations, did it?

The thing is, we do actually get told whats going on, But only in the last couple of paras, where no one is going to bother to look:

Most of the world’s billionaires are in the US, but the number of ultra-wealthy people is growing fast in China, where two new billionaires are minted every week. “Twelve years ago, the world’s most populous country was home to only 16 billionaires,” the report said. “Today, as the ‘Chinese Century’ progresses, they number 373, nearly one in five of the global total.”

One Chinese billionaire told the researchers: “Nowhere else in the world can you find better conditions for growth than in China. The continued progress of wealth creation is supported by government policies liberating the economy, while urbanisation and business model disruption has crafted powerful new entrepreneurs.”

As vast chunks of the world rise up out of that historic penury more people get richer. That’s actually what the climbing up out of penury is, more people getting richer. We’re worried about this because why?

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5 years ago

Nordhaus, the nutty climate change economist, says that the rate of innovation has declined and is approaching zero. I tend to look at these things — knowledge, technology, quality of life — like the water level in a funnel-shaped glass. The first few drops raise the level considerably. After that, the increase appears to tail off. What I suppose we might call ubiquity or penetration is measured on the horizontal axis. It may not be new technology for a geek in Silicone Valley but it sure as heck is for a rice farmer in an Asian paddy. Billionaires tend to… Read more »

5 years ago

The good news is the article gives practical advice on how to make a country richer

“The continued progress of wealth creation is supported by government policies liberating the economy, while urbanisation and business model disruption has crafted powerful new entrepreneurs.””

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