How Many Billionaires?

In the Hutong
Watching as a CNN story about nose-picking in China is censored off my screen.
(And hearing Kristi Lu Stout use the term “snot-rocket” on the air)
1017 hrs.

Reading The Hindu this morning, I cannot help but be impressed at the puffed-chest triumphalism in a story titled “India’s dominance in the billionaires club shocks China.”

One detects in this article – and similar coverage over the past few days – an implicit Indian inferiority complex vis-a-vis China.

As such, I’m happy for India – clearly, as a psychological boost, they needed it.

Show Us Your Money

I won’t, therefore, rain on their party by suggesting that one of the reasons they have more billionaires may well be a growing reluctance among Chinese billionaires to step into the sun.

One wealthy Chinese remarked to me about a year ago that he and others he knew were no longer comfortable with showing up on the increasingly popular “wealthiest Chinese/Asians/humans” lists. In some very public cases, some of the self-declared wealthy have discovered the hard way that China’s tax authorities – and other even less savory characters – are quite interested in these lists as well.

Many of China’s wealthy are, therefore, increasingly focused on hiding their prosperity. Those who owe their wealth to means that either need not or must not – be public are not making them public. There are certainly plenty of places around the world to stash one’s cash – no questions asked.

In reality, there are likely more billionaires than Forbes can identify in China. But that’s not even the greater question.

Where Is It Going?

The real issue here is how those billions are being employed. I’ve gone through a personal political renaissance lately, but I still cannot bring myself to join the people who call for the statutory redistribution of wealth.

I can – and do – ask “what are you doing with your dollars?”

At the very least, Forbes should be examining the extent to which those billionaires are using their money to good purpose (i.e., putting it back into circulation to drive greater economic activity, or investing it in community or philanthropy), and evaluating those efforts.

Only then can we determine if the Forbes list actually means anything – for India, China, or anywhere else.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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