Names Of The Oligarchs On A Map Of The Motherland*

Not really arguing anything in this post, just sharing some interesting stats I found about the affluent class in Russia (as compared with BRIC’s and others).

First, as we know Russia is (in)famous for the opulence of it oligarchy. But according to the research firm Wealth-X, despite a relatively high number of billionaires, its overall share of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNW) is far more modest as you can see in the table below. As a percentage of GDP (caveat: this is comparing apples and oranges, but still instructive since national wealth is correlated to yearly output), the wealth of the Russian UHNW’s is equal to 43% of a 1.5tn GDP in 2010 (as compared with 28% in China, 43% in Brazil, 44% in the US, and 55% in India).

So, same picture as with income inequality – as I’ve noted before on this blog, Russia’s levels of inequality are in fact quite modest by world standards – with a Gini index of about 40, it is higher than most European countries (25-35) but lower than the US and China (45) and most Latin American countries (50+).

Now what’s really distinctive about Russia’s ultra-rich is that billionaires comprise a high percentage of all UHNW individuals – some 7% of them, as opposed to about 1% in the other countries; and those same billionaires control 84% of that group’s total wealth, as opposed to 33% in Brazil and China, 25% in the US, and 20% in India.

Is Russia’s concentration of wealth at the very top of the top good or bad? It’s hard to say. It ultimately depends on your view of the merits of the upper middle class and their values. If you believe it reinforces social stability and creates economic dynamism, then this is a weakness. If on the other hand restricting the emergence of a class system and enhancing state power are held to be important, then Russia’s structure is better (after all, it’s easier to influence 100 odd billionaires than keep track of thousands of multimillionaires).

One interesting (and puzzling?) thing I’ve noticed is that Sweden seems to have a similar structure of wealth ownership. This country of 9 million has 10 billionaires – that is almost as many as France (12) or Italy (13), whose populations are six or seven times bigger, and almost as many per capita as the United States. Considering that it’s one of the most equal countries in the world, this leaves very little room for the millionaire class (which I guess makes sense on account of its high income tax rates).

Second, I was trolling Forbes’ list of Russia billionaires for 2011 and counted up the wealth of those known to be friends of Putin (Gennady Timchenko of Gunvor, oil transport and Yury Kovalchuk, banking – through the Ozero dacha coop; and Arkady Rotenberg, of construction, inc. of the controversial Khimki route – through judo). It came up to around $8.1 billion of the total $432.7 billion.

That is a very comfortable sum, of course, but doesn’t really support the oft peddled line that friends of Putin are corruptly buying up most of the Russian economy. Little doubt that Timchenko et al. got by some or most of their wealth “unfairly” (and I assume they’ll be expected to return some of the favors to Putin & Co. once they retire) but that’s just really existing capitalism most places in the world for you.

* Kudos to those who got the Pelevin reference.

  • Glossy

    OK, I’ve seen that commercial. Very funny:

  • Yalensis

    Did you know that you can put yourself on a list to purchase one of those cute bonsai giraffes that the oligarchs love so much? They are bred at the Sokolovsky farm. Very expensive, though….

    • AK

      They are for real!?!!?!

      Wow. That there’s a market for them shows that the oligarch class is far more degenerate than even I thought possible.

      • kirill

        I think that whole website is a prop for the commercial. Pygmyization would not lead to such a radical change in size and most importantly would not produce a perfect scaling of all features.

        • Yalensis

          You doubt these creatures exist, you cynic? If you read the website, you will learn that that the Sokoblovsky Farm has been “Russia’s finest purveyors of petite lap giraffes since 1908.” Hm… Now that I think about it, during Stalin period, the farm (and giraffes) would have been collectivized… No matter, I am SURE they must exist. I also believe in unicorns and giant turtles who are experts in martial arts…

        • AK
          • Seconded.

            • kurt

              They are too small, but I’m sure Stalin would have liked them. My great uncle for example was allowed to still run his tobacco plantation in communist Romania because they needed his cigars for diplomacy. So I think there’ll have been similar arrangements in the Soviet Union. However, it’s a great marketing idea, if I were them I would sell stuffed toys for the less affluent 🙂

  • charly

    An explanation of Russia’s wealth distribution could be that the oligarchs “earned” it while in Brazil etc. they inherited it.

  • Pingback: Russia: Myth of the super rich? · Global Voices()

  • After I watched the video above, I was very surprised because it did not believe there is a giraffe as small as it is, is it real or just a contrived? because in my country there is no small giraffe. Please send me the explanation that I not be curious anymore. thanks

    • AK

      No, it’s not real. 🙂

  • Jen

    Hilarious video. Love that gold-plated TV remote. I wish giraffes that size did exist but they would lose their long necks and legs and come out looking like those miniature Falabella horses that are bred in Argentina.

    There used to be prehistoric dwarf elephants and mammoths so it wouldn’t be impossible for someone to breed miniature tame versions of Asian elephants for the oligarchs, small enough for children to ride or to put on a leash and go for walks.