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A Sociologist Enters the Shadowy World of Wealth Managers

Stashed in: Facts, Wealth!, Winner take all., economics, Money, Rich people get richer., Today I Learned, Personal Finance

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"Reader, I trained to become a wealth manager". Now that is dedication to research.

Today I learned that 103,000 people are classified as “ultra-high-net-worth” based on having $30 million or more in investable assets.

By the same token, when Oxfam estimates that just 1 percent of the world’s population will own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth by 2016, it’s important to realize that such a state of affairs doesn’t just happen by itself, or even through the actions of individual wealthy people. For the most part, the wealthy are busy enjoying their wealth or making more of it; keeping those personal fortunes out of the hands of governments (along with creditors, litigants, divorced spouses, and disgruntled heirs) is the job of wealth managers.

Wealth managers are well versed in sheltering money from divorces, lawsuits, death, and taxes.

What these professionals most emphatically did not look like is people with control over millions in global capital flows. And yet that is exactly what they were. Call it the “banality of professional power”—the cultivation of a useful obscurity, which allows the very wealthy to exist in a realm of freedom verging on lawlessness. To the extent that this remains unknown and virtually unimaginable to everyone else, the realm will persist undisturbed. Public dialogue about inequality will remain stalled on the old tropes of “class war” and “envy” of the “wealth creators.” It may be more productive to turn the spotlight away from the rich themselves, and instead focus on the professionals who—in their quiet, discreet, and extremely effective way—make it possible for the wealthiest people in the world to gain all the benefits of society, while flouting its laws. Rather than asking whether the distribution of economic resources is fair, perhaps the more compelling question lies upstream, in the way that distribution is created in the first place: by a kind of shell game played with international law. Most people have little tolerance for such shenanigans on the street corner. What about on a global scale?

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