…two men who in the last decade held the title of richest man in China are now in jail on corruption charges of one kind or another. That is not to say that the charges were baseless, only that in China’s freewheeling business culture, the authorities seem to pay particularly close attention when the deal-making generates fortunes approaching $10 billion. Deng Xiaoping declared that “it’s glorious to be rich,” but the message now is, not too rich. The government appears intent on generating competitive churn at the top, in part to contain social resentments.
Now look at Russia, where one hundred billionaires control fortunes worth an astonishing 20 percent of national GDP. Russia has nearly as many billionaires as China but they control twice as much total wealth in an economy one-fourth the size. Just as striking, Russia is missing not only a middle class but also a millionaire class; according to Boston Consulting Group, China ranks third in the world for number of millionaires, while Russia is not even in the top 15 for millionaires.
The growing business influence of the state is reflected in the fact that 69 of those billionaires live in Moscow, the largest concentration for any city in the world. Protected by their patrons, the richest face little competition. Eight of the top 10 are holdovers from 2006. More than 80 percent of the wealth of Russian billionaires comes from non-productive industries like real estate, construction and especially commodities, namely oil and gas, in which political ties can sustain fortunes indefinitely. In no other developing nation is this share greater than 35 percent. Even in Brazil, a commodity economy at the same income level as Russia, the non-productive share of billionaires’ wealth is just 12 percent.
The entire post, by Ruchir Sharma, is fascinating, and with some superb visuals, do read it.