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Cities and the super rich real estate, elite practices and urban political economies (the contemporary city)

CITIES AND THE
SUPER-RICH
Real Estate, Elite Practices,
and Urban Political Economies

edited by

RAY FORREST
SIN YEE KOH
BART WISSINK


The Contemporary City
Series Editors
Ray Forrest
City University of Hong Kong
Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong
Richard Ronald
University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands



In recent decades cities have been variously impacted by neoliberalism,
economic crises, climate change, industrialization and post-industrialization and widening inequalities. So what is it like to live in these contemporary cities? What are the key drivers shaping cities and neighborhoods?
To what extent are people being bound together or driven apart? How do
these factors vary cross-culturally and cross nationally? This book series
aims to explore the various aspects of the contemporary urban experience
from a strongly interdisciplinary and international perspective. With editors based in Amsterdam and Hong Kong the series is drawn on an axis
between old and new cities in the West and East.
We are seeking book proposals from across the social sciences but anticipate a core audience rooted in critical approaches in sociology, human
geography, anthropology and political science. Economic issues are a key
concern but our interest lies more with political economy and non-orthodox economics. New scholars are particularly welcome to contact the editors with ideas for books.
More information about this series at
http://www.springer.com/series/14446


Ray Forrest  •  Sin Yee Koh  •  Bart Wissink
Editors

Cities and the
Super-Rich
Real Estate, Elite Practices, and Urban Political
Economies


Editors
Ray Forrest
City University of Hong Kong
Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Bart Wissink
City University of Hong Kong
Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Sin Yee Koh
Institute of Asian Studies
University Brunei Darussalam
Gadong, Brunei Darussalam

The Contemporary City
ISBN 978-1-137-55715-5    ISBN 978-1-137-54834-4 (eBook)


DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-54834-4
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016959012
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
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The registered company address is: 1 New York Plaza, New York, NY 10004, U.S.A.


Acknowledgements

This book grew out of a two-day workshop hosted by the Urban Research
Group at the City University of Hong Kong on 15–16 January 2015.
The editors would like to acknowledge the financial and logistical support
provided by the Department of Public Policy. This enabled us to bring
together a small international and interdisciplinary group of scholars and
to engage in an intense but informal debate around cities and the super-­
rich in a round-table setting. Some of the research for the book was also
supported by a grant from the ESRC/RGC Joint Research Scheme sponsored by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council and the Economic and
Social Research Council in the United Kingdom (Project reference no:
ES/K010263/1).

v


Contents

1In Search of the Super-Rich: Who Are They?
Where Are They?   1
Ray Forrest, Sin Yee Koh, and Bart Wissink
2Elites Without Hierarchies: Intermediaries, ‘Agency’
and the Super-Rich  19
William Davies

Part I  Real Estate Investments  39
3Real Estate Holdings Among the Super-Rich in
the USA  41
Richard A. Benton, Lisa A. Keister, and Hang Young Lee
4The Super-Rich and Transnational Housing Markets:
Asians Buying Australian Housing  63
Chris Paris
5Becoming a Super-Rich Foreign Real Estate Investor:
Globalising Real Estate Data, Publications and Events  85
Dallas Rogers
vii


viii 

Contents

Part II  Elite Spatialities and Practices 105
  6Beyond the City: Exploring the Maritime
Geographies of the Super-Rich 107
Emma Spence
  7Reviving Transnational Elite Sociality: Social
Clubs in Shanghai 127
Yannan Ding
  8Old Money, Networks and Distinction: The Social
and Service Clubs of Milan’s Upper Classes 147
Bruno Cousin and Sébastien Chauvin
  9Arts and the Super-Rich: Emerging Relations in
the Gulf and the East 167
Sarina Wakefield

Part III  Urban Political Economies 187
10Selling the Tokyo Sky: Urban Regeneration and 
Luxury Housing 189
Yosuke Hirayama
11Elite Informality, Spaces of Exception and the
Super-Rich in Singapore 209
Choon-Piew Pow
12Tycoon City: Political Economy, Real Estate and the
Super-Rich in Hong Kong   229
Bart Wissink, Sin Yee Koh, and Ray Forrest


Contents 

ix

13Minimum City? The Deeper Impacts of the
‘Super-Rich’ on Urban Life   253
Rowland Atkinson, Roger Burrows, Luna Glucksberg,
Hang Kei Ho, Caroline Knowles, and David Rhodes

14Hyper-Divided Cities and the ‘Immoral’ Super-Rich:
Five Parting Questions   273
Ray Forrest, Sin Yee Koh, and Bart Wissink

Index   289


List

of

Contributors

Rowland Atkinson  is Research Chair in Inclusive Societies at the Department of
Urban Studies, University of Sheffield. He is an urban sociologist with interests in
poverty, wealth and crime in city contexts. His work has focused on diverse aspects
of neighbourhood change including social exclusion and area effects, the role of
the wealthy and middle-classes in cities via his work on gentrification, gated communities and, more recently, the very wealthy. The primary focus of his work is to
engage with less visible social problems and questions of exclusion, segregation
and social harms more broadly.
Richard A. Benton  is Assistant Professor of Labor and Employment Relations at
the University of Illinois. His research focuses on economic sociology, organisations, social capital and social networks. His recent publications appear in Social
Forces and Research in the Sociology of Work.
Roger Burrows  is Professor of Cities in the School of Architecture, Planning and
Landscape at Newcastle University, UK. Prior to this, he was Professor of Sociology
and Pro-Warden for Interdisciplinary Development at Goldsmiths, University of
London. He has published almost 150 articles, chapters, books and reports on
various topics throughout his career.
Sébastien  Chauvin  is a sociologist and an associate professor at the Centre en
Etudes Genre of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. His interests include
economic sociology, international migration, citizenship, gender, and sexuality.
His recent work with Bruno Cousin investigates the cultural dimensions of class
inequality.
Bruno Cousin  is an assistant professor of sociology at Sciences Po and a researcher
at the Centre d’Etudes Européennes, Paris. His research stands at the intersection

xi


xii 

List of Contributors

between urban sociology, the analysis of social inequality, and cultural sociology
and focuses mainly on upper and upper-middle classes.
William Davies  is a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and
Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Centre. He is the author of The
Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Sage,
2014) and The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us
Wellbeing (Verso, 2015).
Yannan  Ding  is an Assistant Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He
earned his PhD in geography at KU Leuven, Belgium, in 2012. His main area of
interest is historical geography of the city. He has published several pieces in Social
& Cultural Geography, Journal of Historical Geography, and with Routledge and
Springer. His first book (first co-editor) is going to be publsihed by Palgrave
shortly. Currently, he is a Swire-Cathay Pacific visiting academic at St. Anthony’s
College, University of Oxford.
Ray  Forrest is Chair Professor of Housing and Urban Studies and Head of
Department of Public Policy at the City University of Hong Kong. He is also
Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies at the University of Bristol. He has published
widely on urban political economy, urban sociology and housing studies. Current
research includes work on the Chinese city, neighbourhoods and mobility and
housing policy in the neoliberal era. Recent books have focused on the uneven
impact of the ‘global’ financial crisis on households and on intergenerational tensions around housing.
Luna Glucksberg  is a Researcher at the International Inequalities Institute of the
London School of Economics (LSE). She is an urban anthropologist working on
socio-economic stratification in contemporary British society. Her current interests are the reproduction of wealth amongst global elites, considering the roles of
two key and so far under-researched actors: family offices and women. Prior to
joining the LSE III, Luna gained her degree from UCL and PhD from Goldsmiths,
University of London. She then joined the Centre for Urban and Community
Research (CUCR) as a Research Associate at Goldsmiths, where she maintains a
Fellowship. She sits on an Advisory Board for Transparency International (TI) UK
and has contributed to both blogs and national newspaper articles on issues related
to the elites.
Yosuke Hirayama  is Professor of Housing and Urban Studies at the Graduate
School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University, Japan, working extensively in the areas of housing and urban change, home ownership and
social inequalities, as well as comparative housing policy. His work has appeared in
numerous international and Japanese academic journals and he is a co-editor of
Housing and Social Transition in Japan (Routledge).


List of Contributors 

xiii

Hang Kei Ho  is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Social and Economic
Geography at Uppsala University, Sweden. He previously worked in the UK in
sociology as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of York, and Visiting
Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. His current research
themes include the geographies of consumption in relation to cultural identity,
global alcohol industry with a specific focus on wine consumption in Hong Kong,
the changing identity of Hong Kong with respect to mainland China and the
West, and the super-rich and the flow of capital from South East Asia to UK’s
property market. He obtained his PhD from University College London in
Geography; the thesis is titled Drinking Bordeaux in the ‘new’ Hong Kong:
Exploring changing identities through alcohol consumption. Before academia, he has
worked in education, real estate consultancy, IT and engineering.
Lisa A. Keister  is Gilhuly Family Distinguished Professor of Sociology. She is a
faculty affiliate of the Duke Asian Pacific Studies Institute, the Center for the Study
of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences, and the Duke Population
Research Institute. Keister’s research spans multiple subfields including economic
sociology, social stratification and mobility, organisations and work, religion,
immigration and Chinese studies. She has published four academic books and one
textbook, has two books in contract, and has edited (or co-edited) four volumes.
Her papers have appeared in many top sociology journals.
Caroline  Knowles is Co-Director of the Centre for Urban and Community
Research (CUCR) and Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of
London. She is the author of many books and papers on urbanism, ethnicity, race
and the circulations of people (as migrants) and of objects composing contemporary globalisation. Her recent books include Flip-Flop: A Journey through
Globalisation’s Backroads, published by Pluto Press, 2014, www.flipfloptrail.com;
Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes and Journeys, with Douglas Harper, published by the University of Chicago Press, 2009; Making Race Matter, with Claire
Alexander, ­published by Palgrave, 2005; Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual
Methods and the Sociological Imagination, with Paul Sweetman, published by
Routledge, 2004, (and translated into Japanese 2012); Race and Social Analysis,
published by Sage, 2003; and Bedlam on the Streets, published by Routledge,
2000.
Sin Yee Koh  is Assistant Professor in Geography in the Institute of Asian Studies
at University Brunei Darussalam. Her research, positioned at the intersection of
migration studies and urban studies, is informed by three areas of interests: (1)
postcolonial geography and colonial legacies; (2) migration/mobilities and citizenship; and (3) urbanisation, inequality and social change. She is the author of
Race, Education, and Citizenship: Mobile Malaysians, British Colonial Legacies,
and A Culture of Migration (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).


xiv 

List of Contributors

Hang Young Lee  is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Sociology at
Duke University. His areas of research span income and wealth inequality, social
stratification and mobility, social capital, social network analysis and economic
sociology. His recent publications include articles in Social Currents and Journal of
European Social Policy and chapters in Social Capital and Its Institutional
Contingency (Routledge, 2014).
Chris Paris, FAcSS,  is Emeritus Professor of Housing Studies, Ulster University.
He has held senior academic posts in the UK and Australia and was a Research
Fellow in the Centre for Housing, Urban & Regional Planning at Adelaide
University in 2013 and 2014. He is the author of 30 books, monographs and
research reports and over 100 journal publications, mainly in urban studies and
housing, including Affluence, Mobility and Second Home Ownership (Routledge,
2011).
Choon-Piew Pow  is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the
National University of Singapore. His research focuses broadly on critical geographies of the urban built environment and in particular examining how diverse
urban forms shape the social and spatial reproduction of urban life in Asian cities.
His ongoing research projects revolves around gated communities and urban segregation; ‘eco-cities’ and contested notions of urban sustainability and more generally the globalisation of urban planning.
David Rhodes  is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Housing Policy, University
of York. His primary research interests encompass aspects of social policy and
housing provision and consumption as they relate to privately rented housing. The
variation and geography of local housing markets, in both contemporary and historical contexts, has been a theme of his research. Much of his work has utilised
quantitative methods and GIS techniques to explore secondary sources of data.
Dallas Rogers  is a Senior Lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of
Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney. His research
focuses on a relational examination of housing poverty and wealth in globalising
cities. His projects investigate the relationships between globalising urban space,
discourse and technology networks, and housing poverty and wealth. He is the
author of The Geopolitics of Real Estate: Reconfiguring Property, Capital and Rights
(2016, Rowman and Littlefield International).
Emma  Spence  is a PhD candidate at the School of Planning and Geography,
Cardiff University. In her thesis, she explores the motivations, frictions and performances of super-rich maritime mobility.
Sarina  Wakefield  is an Adjunct Lecturer in the College of Arts and Creative
Enterprises at Zayed University (Dubai Campus). She has lectured at UCL Qatar
and has worked on museum and heritage projects in the United Kingdom and the


List of Contributors 

xv

Kingdom of Bahrain. Her research interests center on critical heritage studies and
museology of the Gulf. She has a particular interest in ‘trans-national’ identity and
globalization, and migrant heritage in the Gulf. She has published work in international journals and books relating to the museums and heritage sector in the
Gulf, which include the co-edited volume Museums in Arabia: Transnational
Practices and Regional Processes (Exell and Wakefield, London & New York:
Routledge, 2016). She received her BSc in Archaeology and her MA in Museum
Studies from the University of Leicester (UK) and her PhD from the Open
University (UK).
Bart  Wissink  is Associate Professor in Urban Studies and Urban Policy at the
Department of Public Policy at the City University of Hong Kong. His research
focuses on enclave urbanism in five Asian city regions (Bangkok, Guangzhou,
Hong Kong, Mumbai and Tokyo), with special attention for comparative urban
form, urban controversies, social networks and the neighbourhood, and urban
inequalities. He has held visiting appointments in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mumbai
and Tokyo.


List

AGO
AIG
BFC
BRIC
BRICS
CEO
CIES
FDI
FIRB
FIS
GDP
GFC
HKSAR
HNWI
HRSCE
HSBC
IDX
IMWI
I.T.
JNR
LDP
LPS
LTSV
MAS
MTI

of

Abbreviations

Auditor-General’s Office
American International Group
Business and Financial Centre
Brazil, Russia, India and China
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa
Chief executive officer
Capital Investment Entrant Schemes
Foreign direct investment
Foreign Investment Review Board
Financial Investor Scheme
Gross domestic product
Global financial crisis
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
High net worth individuals
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics
Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation
Internet Data Exchange
Internationally-mobile wealthy individual
Information technology
Japan National Railways
Liberal Democratic Party
Luxury Property Showcase
Long Term Social Visit Pass
Monetary Authority of Singapore
Ministry of Trade and Industry
xvii


xviii 

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

NRI
OLS
PAC
PR
PRC
QMA
RAS
RETS
SARS
SCCCCI
SCF
SCPL
SCS
SDC
SEE
SSBA
TMG
TNC
UAE
UHNWI

Non-resident Indian
Ordinary least-squares
Public Accounts Committee
Permanent Resident
People’s Republic of China
Qatar Museums Authority
Royal Asiatic Society
Real Estate Transaction Standard
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Survey of Consumer Finances
Sentosa Cove Pte Ltd
Singapore Club in Shanghai
Sentosa Development Corporation
Special Economic Envoy
Shanghai Singapore Business Association
Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Transnational corporation
United Arab Emirates
Ultra high net worth individuals


List

of

Figures

Fig. 5.1Global property seminar, 2014 SMART investment &
international property expo
Fig. 7.1The Ambassy club is located in a historical quarter
with several consulates
Fig. 10.1 Location of high-rise condominium blocks,
Tokyo Ward-Districts
Fig. 10.2 Floor-area-ratio regulation relaxation districts and
redevelopment priority designated by Urban
Renaissance Special Measure Law, Tokyo Ward-Districts
Fig. 11.1 Singapore’s new downtown at Marina Bay
Fig. 11.2 Condominium developments in Sentosa Cove
Fig. 12.1 Hong Kong business tycoons meet president Xi Jingping
Fig. 12.2 Share of private residential flats by size, 1997–2014
Fig. 13.1 Alpha territory neighbourhoods

98
140
197
198
216
217
230
242
257

xix


List

of

Tables

Table 3.1 Real estate holdings of net worth and real estate classes
Table 3.2 Demographic traits of top households
Table 3.3 Multivariate analysis of real estate ownership
Table 4.1FIRB approvals by country of investors 1995–96, 2004–05
and 2011–12
Table 7.1 Composition of members of the Clube Lusitano in 1947
Table 8.1 The space of co-optation procedures in Milanese clubs

52
55
56
75
132
156

xxi


CHAPTER 1

In Search of the Super-Rich: Who Are They?
Where Are They?
Ray Forrest, Sin Yee Koh, and Bart Wissink
Backcloth
A variation on the apocryphal exchange between Scott Fitzgerald and
Ernest Hemingway could go something like this: ‘The super-rich are different from you and me’. ‘Yes, they have even more money than the rich’.
But much of the rapidly accumulating literature on this group would sugThe work described in this introduction was substantially supported by a grant
from the ESRC/RGC Joint Research Scheme sponsored by the Hong Kong
Research Grants Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in the
United Kingdom (Project reference no.: ES/K010263/1).

R. Forrest (*)
Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong,
Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
S. Y. Koh
Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam,
Gadong, Brunei Darussalam
B. Wissink
Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong,
Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR

© The Author(s) 2017
R. Forrest et al. (eds.), Cities and the Super-Rich,
DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-54834-4_1

1


2 

R. FORREST ET AL.

gest that the difference extends well beyond material wealth. The superrich are often represented as an exotic other, a species occupying a parallel
universe of privilege, disconnected from the everyday lives of the masses
and serviced by a set of domestic flunkies and parasitic advisors. Some suggest that their innate gifts of energy, vision and creativity set them apart
from the herd—and in some cases that may well have some credence.
Others vehemently criticize this notion of the ‘deserving rich’ as justification for growing inequalities (Bauman, 2013; Dorling, 2014; Rowlingson
& Connor, 2011; Sayer, 2015; Stiglitz, 2012).
While there is a rather voyeuristic genre of popular media studies that
allow us to catch an occasional glimpse of these super-rich creatures as they
navigate their secretive, premier social and spatial routes, there is also a more
aggressive and condemnatory literature which emphasizes their greedy, selfserving and amoral qualities. Reflecting on these two literatures, elsewhere
we have argued that, taken as a whole, the super-rich literature tends to
overstress agency at the expense of structure—indulging in vilification or
celebration in equal measures (Koh, Wissink, & Forrest, 2016). However,
as this book seeks to demonstrate, elite practices and materialities are highly
varied and, moreover, the super-rich elites are part of a complex infrastructure of rules and intermediaries which support, and are supported by, their
activities (Davies, 2014; Forrest & Wissink, 2016; Koh & Wissink, 2015;
Koh et al., 2016). In that sense, it is erroneous to construct them as a special
elite group completely divorced from the less privileged world. To be sure,
the ultra-wealthy have common needs which they can satisfy in elite ways,
but they are still embedded in, rather than separated from, a network of servants, services and the often mundane aspects of everyday life. A network of
intermediaries ties the super-rich tightly to the global power points: cities at
the crossroads of the information and financial flows of networked capitalism. This takes us to the distinctive theme of this book, namely, cities and
the super-rich. We shall return to that connection in a moment.
There is another temporal dimension to the super-rich debate. Why
now? There have always been extremely wealthy people around, on their
country estates, and particularly in the major world cities; so why this current re-emergence of interest in those at the extreme end of the income
and wealth spectrum? First, and closely connected to the global cities literature (Sassen, 1991), is the extremely visible extravagance, the particularly
conspicuous consumption (Veblen, 1899) of this growing minority. There
is nothing new about extreme inequalities: there is a well-­established economics literature on wealth distributions and wealth dynamics and various sociological and popular texts on privileged elites. Lundberg’s (1968)


IN SEARCH OF THE SUPER-RICH: WHO ARE THEY? WHERE ARE THEY? 

3

treatise, which is generally acknowledged to have introduced the term
‘super-rich’, was a sustained polemic with chapter titles such as ‘The Great
Tax Swindle’ and ‘Oligarchy by Default’. But at the time it was a relatively
isolated analysis compared to the wave of publications on the topic over
the last decade with researchers devoting considerable attention to the
consumption practices of those with extreme wealth (see Koh et al., 2016
for an overview). This growing popularity and analytical interest reflects
the inescapable evidence of everyday life that there has been a marked
redistribution towards the top across a wide range of societies, while also
sounding the alarm about a ‘second gilded age’ (Short, 2013). The market for extreme luxury goods—elite sports cars, super yachts, private jets,
art—has been booming. Competition among the super-­rich has driven
up the price of ‘extreme positional goods’ and ‘Veblen goods’ (Kapner
& Passariello, 2014). Moreover, the dominant ideology of neoliberalism
suggests that such explicit enjoyment of material wealth is nothing to be
ashamed about. Luxury consumption is now in the driving seat of economic growth—the majority should be thanking the very rich minority
for leading the way.
Thus, the very visible evidence of widening inequalities, and the
renewed concentration of wealth, explains the growing interest among
social scientists. A more recent political economy literature has, however,
added a more forensic and diagnostic dimension to the debate around the
super-rich. Critical scholars such as Streeck (2014) and Crouch (2004) see
the rise of the ultra-wealthy as symptomatic of a deep malaise in contemporary capitalist societies. Far from indicating an inspirational and sustainable
victory for the capitalist class, Streeck (2014, p.  64) argues that oligarchic redistribution and the trend towards ‘plutonomy’ (and see Freeland,
2012) will depress growth, undermine social cohesion and offer a ‘long
and painful period of cumulative decay’. He refers to ‘the nightmare of
elites confident that they will outlive the social system that is making them
rich’ (2014, p. 59), a group with little if any allegiance to nation states
which can grow fat on the global capital market and if necessary ‘cash in,
burn bridges and leave nothing behind but scorched earth’ (ibid.). In this
kind of analysis, which pitches capitalism against democracy, the rise of
the super-rich is not a matter for prurient interest, moralizing or simple
egalitarian concern. Rather it is representative of a structural fault in a
financialised, neoliberal capitalism.
Here, the super-rich narrative and its close association with financialisation, ‘the shift in gravity of economic activity from production to finance’
(Foster, 2007), takes us closer to the world of organized and disorganized


4 

R. FORREST ET AL.

crime—the legitimate and illegitimate super-rich. It has been estimated
that drug trafficking alone accounts for some 8 per cent of global trade and
that money laundering for 2–5 per cent of global gross domestic product
(GDP) (Hall, 2010). Quite evidently, some people have made extremely
large amounts of money out of crime. It is also evident that ‘legitimate’
and ‘illegitimate’ activities are closely intertwined. The involvement of
major banks in money laundering and exchange rate fixing and the offshoring and tax avoidance machinations of some economic elites contribute to the view that clientelism, corruption and various shady, if not
outright illegal, practices are inextricably connected to this world of widening inequalities (also see Palan, 2006; Palan, Murphy, & Chavagneux,
2010; Urry, 2014). For example, it is rare these days for an issue of The
Economist not to include at least one report, which exposes some potentially questionable behaviour or business practice of a billionaire, chief
executive officer (CEO) or major financier. At the time of writing, the latest issue (Economist, 2015) had reported that the richest man in China had
seen his ultra-net worth fall from US$40 to 20 billion and the regulators
had stepped in to explore unusual share price movements. The same issue
also described the long running legal actions by the United States Justice
Department on global tax avoidance ‘enablers’ such as HSBC, UBS and
Credit Suisse. In this context, Dorling (2014, p. 64) has noted that the
public ‘now rate bankers along with politician and journalists as by far the
most likely among fifteen professional groups not to tell the truth’.
All this is not to suggest that criminal behaviour and the acquisition of
super-riches are necessarily or even frequently coincidental. But the distinction between creative accounting and fraud is a fine one. The widespread animosity toward economic elites across the world is fuelled by the
perception, backed up by considerable daily evidence that the very rich
and powerful can play by different rules and get away with it. This relates
to Ong’s (2006) ideas of neoliberal exceptionalism and Roy’s (2009)
notions of elite informality (see Pow in this book). The major world cities
are merely the most significant sites in which these ‘not so formal’ rules are
played out in very visible spaces of exception.

Who Are the Super-Rich?
Initially we considered titling this book, the One Percent City. However, as
Dorling (2014, p. 2) observed from 2013 data, in the UK a childless couple
with a pre-tax total household income of £160,000 (US$250,000) would
qualify as members of the 1 per cent. That may be a substantial household


IN SEARCH OF THE SUPER-RICH: WHO ARE THEY? WHERE ARE THEY? 

5

income, but it is not the stratospheric kind of sums we tend to have in
mind when we think of the super-rich. Moreover, on that m
­ easure many
double earning, professional academic households would be included,
some of which generate the critiques of the economic elites, and would
almost certainly include themselves in the 99 per cent. It should also be
acknowledged that there are extreme and widening income differentials
within the 1 per cent. Those in the top one thousandth have enjoyed
the most spectacular increases in their incomes in recent decades (Piketty,
2014, pp. 319–320). The majority in the social mainstream may find it of
little interest to know that even the extremely wealthy are outclassed by a
small elite, but it serves to caution against generalizing about lifestyles and
behaviour among the super-rich. For example, these kinds of differentials
became very evident in the course of our fieldwork in Hong Kong when a
local private jet broker commented that there were ‘no super-rich expatriates in Hong Kong’. She was in the business of selling jets to the super
wealthy, often billionaires. The local, expatriate rich simply ranked in the
hundred-millions.
In simple income terms, therefore, constructing the 1 per cent as the
‘other’ is somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, we cannot escape the task
of description and delineation entirely. Collins Dictionary offers the stark,
‘exceptionally wealthy’. This ‘exceptionalism’ in the commercial wealth
management literature has been progressively broken down into different segments, with Statista’s ‘Global pyramid of wealth’ for instance discerning ‘millionaires’, ‘centamillionaires’ and ‘billionaires’ (McCarthy,
2015). Most commonly there is reference to high net worth (HNW) and
ultra-high net worth (UHNW) individuals. Knight Frank’s (2014) annual
wealth report defines UHNW individuals as those with a fortune of at
least US$30 million. The academic literature has, until recently, adopted
similar descriptions partly in recognition that mere millionaires are now
rather common and unexceptional. It was Piketty (2014), however, who
changed the terms of this debate and the definitional framing. He also
provided something of a counter to arguments that the super economic
elite was too small and too elusive to provide a meaningful target for critical attention. Davies (2014), had for example, argued that if this was
a new type of class warfare it was of a very different kind in which the
oppressive class were notable by their absence from the battlefield. We
were ‘chasing shadows’: ‘Targeting the ‘1  %’ only confirms the frustration of our current predicament: the culprits are so few as to be virtually
invisible. Traditional class warfare this is not’. In dividing the rich into
different percentile groups Piketty showed, however, that we are not just


6 

R. FORREST ET AL.

talking about a few extremely wealthy people who made little difference
in the scheme of things—quite the contrary. Using tax records, he found
that the 0.1 per cent who ‘apparently possess fortunes in the order of 10
million Euros on average’ represent some 4.5 million adults globally—the
size of a substantial city; while the wealthiest 1 per cent, with ‘about 3
million Euros apiece on average’ account for some 45 million people—the
population of a reasonably sized country (Piketty, 2014, p. 438).
Piketty, therefore, offered a straightforward definitional approach
towards the super-rich based on wealth distributions. The advantage of
this approach is that it does not assume any particular set of characteristics
or behavioural traits nor draw a line between the super-rich and the rest
based on some arbitrary number. The individuals who fall in the top 1 per
cent or 0.1 per cent may all be very wealthy but may be quite differentiated in terms of their actual wealth, behaviours, lifestyles, demographic
characteristics and how their wealth was acquired and deployed. Here, we
could contrast the footloose nature of finance with the potentially more
localized base for more traditional sectors such as real estate. From this
perspective, the power and status of the super-rich have to be empirically
and discursively constructed in a particular social and economic milieu.
The question is therefore not whether individuals have incomes or assets
sufficiently large to join some absolute universal category but whether
they can be reasonably regarded (and are perceived) as part of a privileged
economic elite in their local milieu.
This definitional discussion inevitably links to the question of whether
the super-rich can be conceived of as a coherent social class. Contrary to
previous representations of a socially mobile capitalism, it has been argued
that we now have an entrenched marginalized underclass and reproletarianizing middle class (Dorling, 2014). This would be consistent with
Piketty’s argument that the patrimonial middle classes may appear to have
escaped from their working class roots but their mainly residential wealth
is merely a few ‘crumbs off the table’. The capitalist class has reasserted
its dominance. In the second chapter, Davies addresses this issue head on
when he asks, ‘what do they want?’ Leaving aside Davies’ exploration of
this question, one response might be that the super-rich do not have a
single material base. This would be consistent with the points made previously that we need to pursue this question empirically and stress potentially
more fluid identities. It may be that beyond the tabloid representations
and stereotypes, we need to acknowledge the diversity of economic elites
and the existence of multiple coalitions without a coherent class character.


IN SEARCH OF THE SUPER-RICH: WHO ARE THEY? WHERE ARE THEY? 

7

We can therefore see a number of different approaches to this definitional issue. Tabloid representations (and some academic) are generally of
the ‘lifestyles of rich and famous’ variety in which certain common characteristic and behaviours are assumed and presented. Then there is the more
sober empirical and economic approach in which no common traits or
behaviours are assumed beyond the fact that these individuals or families are
within the 1 per cent or 0.1 per cent by income and/or wealth (e.g. Piketty,
2014). But there is also another approach which explores their discursive
construction and the extent to which ‘they’ are so different from ‘us’. From
this theoretical vantage point, the super-rich are simply further along the
scale from most of us—the differences are more quantitative than qualitative. Here, we conceive of contemporary social structures more in terms of
continuities than discontinuities. Thurlow and Jaworski’s (2014, p. 177)
work on the social semiotics of elite tourism explores the way in which all
consumers are implicated to varying degrees in this discursive construction
of luxury branding and elite consumerism. As they argue, ‘elitism is more
than simply a material or economic reality; it is also an aspirational ideal in
relation to which all consumer-citizens, regardless of their wealth or power,
are constantly persuaded and taught to position themselves’. They make
the point that those lapping up the positional status of elite eco-tourism or
discovering the next undiscovered island are more likely to be super-rich
wannabes. The ‘real’ super-rich are already somewhere else. Thus, superrichness is often discursively constructed through the practices in specific
social settings of those who aspire to the marketed imagery of the superrich lifestyle—think one-percentism rather than one-percentness.

Where Are the Super-Rich?
So where are the super-rich? One answer to this question, as we have
hinted, is: probably somewhere else. They are defined by the absence
of co-presence. Some argue that following earlier moves of disaffiliation
by the urban middle classes, the super-rich are not among us (Atkinson,
2006; Atkinson et al. in this book; Koh, Wissink, & Forrest, 2015; Watt,
2009). They move in different worlds along privileged pathways. They
are off land in their super yachts (see Spence in this book), their assets
are offshore, and if they are not at sea they are in their private jets or
luxury penthouses. Mobility and invisibility therefore come to mind when
we think of the economic elite. Wherever they are, they are in transit—­
moving between homes or business meetings. Even their non-liquid


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