Millionaire club boasts more folks than ever

| Thursday, June 23, 2011

The world made progress last year toward a goal rarely put in words anymore -- the goal of having more rich people. And not just a few, but many more.

If everyone in the world were a millionaire (set aside the implausibility for a moment) and their money wasn't just a pile of paper inflation, it's hard to see any downside.

All the things people could do with money, a world of millionaires would do.

That is, buy houses and things of beauty and utility to fill them. Save for children's education and their own retirement. Invest in production of more wealth. And donate to cultural, research and medical causes. And all of these uses for surplus wealth would create jobs, more, probably, than could be filled, thereby raising wage levels, too.

A world of the rich would be rich enough, even, to totally clean up after itself, taking care of the environmental downsides, if any.

So cheers should have sounded a few weeks ago when an unofficial census of the world's millionaires came out. It was up.

The ranks of the seven-figure folks grew in 2010 by 12 percent.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group said the planet now has about 12.5 million families whose financial assets (not counting houses and personal belongings) come to $1 million or more. We've never had so many.

True, inflation has jaded us a bit. We've got the "super-rich" billionaires (no trillionaires yet). But in most minds making a million is making it.

How'd the class of 2010 get there?

By riding the gains in financial markets, according to the BCG study. It was the second consecutive year that stock averages around the world lifted hundreds of thousands of boats over the threshold. Obviously, a market crash could dump some of them back again.

The most fertile territory for millionaire-making was Singapore, where the crop increased 33 percent. A remarkable 15.5 percent of householders in the strait-laced Asian island are millionaires. Switzerland and Qatar, also well-behaved places, are next.

The United States is still far ahead in total millionaire households, at 5.2 million. Second and third are Japan and up-and-coming China. The latter's billion population, wriggling out of the dead end imposed by Communism, now estimates a million millionaires. Saudi Arabia had the highest concentration of ultra-net-worthers, defined as $100 million-plus. Switzerland again was second, Hong Kong third.

The study, reported by Bloomberg News, looked at 62 countries representing 98 percent of world output. Investor assets under management grew $3.6 trillion in the United States and Canada but at the fastest rate across the Pacific rim, 17 percent. Among world investors, North Americans hold the highest proportion of assets in stocks, 44 percent.

Wealth did grow more concentrated last year. Millionaire households possessed 39 percent of global assets, up from 37 percent a year earlier.

And right there is an awful flaw for consciences on the left. It's the "rich get richer, poor get poorer" taint on capitalism. But funds that can be invested do tend to make more money in a growing world economy. People with nothing to save won't. It's a rule of life. And a far more productive teaching than simply to hate "the rich."

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