Magazine article African Business

The Rich Have Never Had It So Good: Why We Should All Feel Uneasy about This

Magazine article African Business

The Rich Have Never Had It So Good: Why We Should All Feel Uneasy about This

Article excerpt

In 1957, the then UK prime minister, Harold Macmillan, uttered the now infamous phrase that the people had "never had it so good." He was referring to an unprecedented rise in living standards for the general population of Britain in the midst of a post-war boom the like of which had never been seen.

Nearly 60 years later, and Macmillan's words retain their relevance, albeit for a very select few. French management consulting firm Capgemini has just released the 20th edition of the "Global Wealth Report", an annual breakdown of the fortunes of so-called high net worth individuals (HNWI).

Its key finding is that Asian millionaires and billionaires have, for the first time, overtaken their North American and European counterparts in terms of total wealth. Asia's rich now account for a staggering $17.4 trillion in personal wealth, ahead of $16.6 trillion in North America and $13.6 trillion in Europe.

While lamenting a slowdown in growth of the global HNWI population and their wealth in 2015, it notes a very important trend: "Despite going through the biggest contraction of the global financial markets (in 2008) since the Great Depression, global HNWI wealth [has] expanded by almost four times" since 1996. The actual figures are an increase from $16.6 trillion in total wealth in 1996 to $58.7 trillion in 2015. To put this in context, the total gross product of the global economy in 2014 was estimated at $78.28 trillion.

This seemingly counterintuitive mushrooming in the fortunes of the wealthy in the face of economic adversity takes on a more ominous dynamic when compared to other statistics--most strikingly on inequality. In January at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the UK-based charity Oxfam released a report which concluded that 62 individuals now own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the global population. …

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