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
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)
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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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?
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
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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?
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