Wealthopolis – the newest and most powerful global state

This article steps well beyond the usual Spend Matters material, but it is an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while, and this seems like the best way to get it into the public domain and stake my claim to a new concept, or at least a new word to describe the concept!

I live 30 miles from London, and spend a lot of time in what is arguably the greatest city in the world, now or at anytime in the past (as I’ve claimed previously).  But walking around London, as I often do, not liking taxis or the Tube much, you can get quite disoriented.

Look in an estate agent’s window on Sloane Street and see a small mews house – something that would have once housed the family’s horses and servants 200 years ago – for sale at £5 million or more.  See an ugly jacket or dress in a shop window in the same part of town and if there is a discrete price label, it is likely to be in four if not five figures. Take a look at the menu , or even better, the wine list, in a Michelin starred  restaurant in London, or indeed in Paris, Tokyo or New York.

I’m lucky; I have earned a decent salary for many years in the UK, still one of the richest countries in the world. Yet these houses, clothes, even bottles of wine, are just way, way out of my league. And it’s not just the big capital cities. You will come across this breath-taking wealth in the most desirable beach or skiing resorts the world over – Zermatt in the Alps being a great example, where the smallest apartment will cost you two million Euros, and a glass of beer 20 euros in many bars.

It is as if there is another world, living in parallel to the one that most of us inhabit. It’s a world where paying millions for another property is a casual transaction for its inhabitants, even if it stands empty for most or the entire year. Where buying that bottle of Chateau Latour to go with your dinner isn’t a big deal.

And the inhabitants do interact with us normal folk, but only in strictly controlled and limited ways. They may be in London, but you certainly won’t see them on the number 507 bus from Waterloo to Victoria, or in the local Wetherspoons or Starbucks. Their planet  is with us and around us, but not of us, and not quite connected with our mundane existence.

I call this parallel universe Wealthopolis.

Wealthopolis is in many locations, if you look carefully, and (sometimes) nowhere, as it exists in hyperspace as well.

It is owned and inhabited by the people who control 99% of the world’s wealth. Some of it is clearly distinct – large parts of London, New York or Venice for instance. Sometimes it is more discreet – a very affluent enclave within an otherwise unremarkable city. Cambridge for instance, where house prices range from something typical for any pleasant small British city to astronomical in the space of a mile or so,  clearly has a Wealthopolis sector.

So imagine Wealthopolis as an invisible, fifth dimension cloak lying over certain places, buildings, people, things... that’s how I now look at it now anyway. You don’t always know immediately when you enter it, but it is there. And some elements of it are open to mere mortals. Many of us can afford the occasional meal in a top restaurant, but other aspects of Wealthopolis are hidden or simply inaccessible. We’ll never get an invite to a Bilderberg event, the most exclusive dinners at Davos, Cannes or Glyndebourne, let alone Bill Gates or Roman Abramovich’s private parties.

What is obvious is how Wealthopolis has grown and become clearer in the last few years. The wealth at the top of the tree has increased and asset prices boomed again as governments flood their economies with newly printed money. Central London property prices have grown by 30% since 2008 (and even more in the core Wealthopolis areas) whilst house prices in Birmingham – England’s “second city” – are still around 10% below that 2008 peak. The gap is increasing.

But does this all matter? I think it does. There are practical issues of people being priced out of living in the key Wealthopolis cities. And there is the growing inequality and domination of many aspects of life by the citizens of this new state.  I’m far from being an idealist or a socialist, but how far can inequality go before something cracks?  If the richest 1% own 99% of the planet’s wealth, is that OK? If they own 99.9%? How about 99.999%? At what point does something snap?

Anyway, if you’ve got this far, no, there’s no great pay-off line here. But you never know, if the term “Wealthopolis” does take off, remember you read about it here first!

Voices (4)

  1. Guy Allen:

    All bubbles do burst, but is it a bubble?

    I would argue that we are now going BACK to the equilibrium state of England, at least. Back in the Medieval Age, as an example the rich were extremely wealthy, look at the castles they built and compare that to the hovels normal people lived in. There are now very few people who could build the equivalent today.

    So I’d argue that a bubble has burst, but that bubble was the 40-50 years after world war 2 when everything became a little more equal. We are now returning to the more dominant state the world has always existed in.

    I am not saying its a good or a bad thing, just that its not new

  2. Miriam:

    All bubbles burst.

    And Peter the 5th dimension is a place you can actually go to now yourself. It’s rich in many ways but you’ll not need any money to visit.

  3. Dan:

    ‘Wealthopolis’ implies a geographical location. I think its more like a sub-atomic particle, like the Higgs Bosun – lets call it the Gekko Bosun. Its an intangible element that is only really perceivable by its effect the world around us – higher property prices, distorted legal and political systems etc. Higher concentrations in a given location have higher distortions, such as in London.

  4. bitter and twisted:

    I prefer not to mix languages in neologisms so how about Plutopolis.

    scholars correct me, maybe Pleonekteopolis is better.

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