Handbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich
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Handbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich

Edited by Iain Hay and Jonathan V. Beaverstock

Fewer than 100 people own and control more wealth than 50 per cent of the world’s population. The Handbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich is a unique examination of both the lives and lifestyles of the super-rich, as well as the processes that underpin super-wealth generation and its unequal distribution. Drawing on a multiplicity of international examples, leading experts from across the social sciences offer a landmark multidisciplinary contribution to emerging analyses of the global super-rich and their astonishing wealth. The book’s 22 accessible and coherently organised chapters cover a range of captivating topics from biographies of illicit super-wealth, to tax footprint reduction, to the environmental consequences of super-rich lives and their conspicuous consumption.
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Chapter 5: Interrogating the legitimacy of extreme wealth: a moral economic perspective

Andrew Sayer


Thanks in particular to the work of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, it has become clear that the rich and super-rich have made an extraordinary comeback since the 1970s (Atkinson et al., 2011; Piketty, 2014). This phenomenon is most clear in English-speaking countries in which neoliberalism, and with it, financialization, have been strongest. As their data show, the proportion of national income received by the top 1 per cent and fractions thereof in these countries over the last 100 years follows a U-shaped curve, bottoming out in the post-war boom; in the UK it fell from over 18 per cent in the 1920s to 6 per cent in the 1970s, from which it recovered to over 15 per cent by 2007, followed by a temporary dip and then recovery. Sweden and Norway have shallower U-shaped curves. Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Argentina have also seen a return of the rich, albeit with more fluctuations. China, of course, has seen a dramatic rise in top incomes in recent years. The return of the rich is much more limited in France, Denmark and Japan, which have more L-shaped curves. In Germany, the share of national income taken by the 1 per cent has stayed fairly flat but at a relatively high level since the war. In the Netherlands and Switzerland the income shares of the top 1 per cent have fallen since the post-war boom.

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