The Super Rich: Data & Comments

So the Sunday Times now treats us to a separate analysis of the ‘super rich’, offered a week in advance of its well-established annual ‘Rich List’. This blog is a brief response to its listing and portrayal of Britain’s billionaires.

Some basic facts: there are 104 billionaires in the 2014 Rich List, worth a total of £301.133bn. They account for 58% of the wealth of the 1,000 richest people in Britain and Northern Ireland (there are four billionaires based in Northern Ireland, worth a total of £8.411bn). The total wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain is £518.975bn.

As has been celebrated/decried in the press over the last day or two, London now has more billionaires (72) than any other city in the world (next come Moscow with 48 and New York with 43).

Britain’s top 10 billionaires break down as follows: (1) Sri and Gopi Hinduja (industry & finance) £11.9bn; (2) Alisher Usmanov (mining & investment) £10.65bn; (3) Lakshmi Mittal & family (steel) £10.25bn; (4) Len Blavatnik (investment, music & media) £10bn; (5) Ernesto & Kirsty Bertarelli (pharmaceuticals) £9.75bn; (6) John Fredriksen & family (shipping & oil serices) £ 9.25bn; (7) David & Simon Reuben (property & internet) £9bn; (8) Kirsten & Jorn Rausing (inheritance & investment) £8.8bn; (9) Roman Abramovich (oil & industry) £8.52bn; and (10) The Duke of Westminster (property) £8.5bn.

None of these make the world’s top 10 billionaires. The Hinduja brothers are 44th on the world list. The world top 10 break down as follows: (1) Walton family (US: retailing) £86.8bn; (2) Charles & David Koch (US: oil services) £60bn; (3) Bill Gates (US: Microsoft) £47.4bn; (4) Forrest, John & Jacqueline Mars (US: confectionary) £45.7bn; (5) Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico: telecoms) £39.5bn; (6) Amancio Ortega (Spain: fashion) 38.5bn; (7) Warren Buffett (US: investment) £37.9bn; (8=) Ingvar Kamprad (Sweden: retailing) £28.5bn; (8=) Stefan & Johanna Quandt (Germany: vehicles) £28.5bn; and (10) Larry Ellison (US: computers) £26.4bn.

These are useful and revealing data, well collated by the journalists of the Sunday Times. We now await next Sunday’s full 2014 Rich List.

I do not intend to analyze the data summarized here: there will be better times and places. But I do have an observation or two. First, the ‘global complexion’ of the characters who dominate Britain and the world’s super-rich rankings is clear. Bauman referred to them as nomads. They are people who necessarily present as committed to the destinies of their chosen countries but who for the most part show a propensity to dwell where their interests are best served. And second, and notwithstanding the listing in the Sunday Times of ‘risers’ and ‘fallers’ over the last 12 months, these are people who would have to work exceptionally hard to forego luxurious living. Piketty would interject here. In the post-1970s neo-liberal times of low growth rates, emasculated unions and zero hours contracts, ownership of capital is its own reward. The super rich, and indeed the rich, live on a different plane from most of us.

My final point has to be a more sociological one, and one that Piketty – ok, he is an economist – neglects. The super rich and rich surf deep social structures that – especially in financial capitalism – unerringly deliver them to desired destinations. Large and growing segments of Britain’s and much of the world’s population are not waving but drowning as the waves rumble towards Bondi and other beaches round the world. In short, what matters – and I would contend not just for sociologists – are deep social structures. Journalists, typically in hock to their proprietors and overly clubby with party politicians, stick with individuals and events!

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