There was a time, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, when the fortunes of New York wanted to make clear the power of the city in the most resounding and expensive way possible: building skyscrapers. And they did well. In a matter of decades they shaped, among others, the Woolworth, the Empire State or the Rockefeller Center. They’re still impressive today, but as much as the idea would probably have shocked 20th-century tycoons, they no longer mark the “capital” of millionaires.
New York continues to host skyscrapers and tycoons with a long string of zeros in their checking account, but there are other cities with more billionaires. And the most curious thing is that they are all located far from there, in China. The list of 2022 fortunes just published by Hurun – a company based in Shanghai – shows that, after dropping one position, New York is the fourth city in the world in number of great fortunes. It hosts 110, less than Shenzhen, Shanghai or Beijing.
More than a curious fact or a simple circumstantial anecdote, the Hurun table clearly reflects how great fortunes are increasingly concentrated in Asia, especially in China and India, and less so in the United States or other Western countries. And to show a button: of the 30 metropolises with the highest number of billionaires, 18 are in Asia. Going down a little more to the detail, it is even verified that of that thirty almost a third part are concentrated in China.
The thrust of the Asian Giant
The Hurun list from just a few years ago, 2017, shows a slightly different picture. The ranking of the 20 cities with the highest number of billionaires was already led by Beijing, but New York was much higher, in second place. Paris has since dropped from ninth to 12th place and Moscow from fifth to tenth. In any case, the Asian peso in the listing was already considerable by then: they added 12 localities, half of them distributed by the Asian Giant.
If so many cities with tycoons are distributed throughout the Chinese geography, it is, simply and simply, because a good handful of them live in the country. According to the “photograph” taken by Hurun at the international level, the People’s Republic is home to 1,133 billionaires —75 more than the previous year—, a fact that makes it the state with the highest concentration of tycoons. The second place in the ranking is occupied by the USA, with 716; the third India, with 215; and the fourth United Kingdom, with 150.
“China continued to move away from the US in the last year, with 1,133 ‘known’ billionaires. The turning point came in 2016, when Chinese billionaires first overtook Americans. Since then, the number of billionaires in China has more than doubled, while those in the US have grown by a third,” says Rupert Hoogewert, president and principal investigator of the Hurun Report. His data speaks for itself: China hosts 17% of the world population and 34% of “known” billionaires, four points more than in 2021.
To fully understand what is happening in the Asian Giant, it helps to know the history of Shenzhen, the city that just overtook new york as home to billionaires. Its origins could not be more humble: it started as a fishing village, but the decision of the Deng Xiaoping government to make it the country’s first special economic zone in 1980 gave it a considerable boost that skyrocketed its economy. As reported by CNBC, from 1979 to 2021 its GDP soared from less than 28 million dollars to almost 475,000. Today it is a pole of innovation.
The phenomenon is not unique to China. Hurun analysts perceive how Asia is “distancing” from North America and Europe. If it hosts 57% of the world’s population, in 2022 it registered 66% of the new faces on the list of tycoons, 52% of the billionaires and 42% of the wealth. Over the last decade, they point out, the number of great fortunes in India has doubled every five years until it was around 250 when the last report was made.
If we want to understand these data, we must take into account an essential key: that China or India gain billionaires does not mean that they are being lost in other latitudes.
The global board of great riches it’s not a zero sum game. They are increasing in China, but also in the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany or France, among other countries. Analysts calculate that, despite the war in Ukraine and the impact of COVID, billionaires have reached “a new record”: after adding about three new incomes a week, the club of the planet’s great fortunes now stands at 3,381 . There are 153 more than just a year ago and, says Hurun, 50% more than just five years ago. There are those who “click”, of course, like Russia, with 13 tycoons less.
The tables also show another curious fact. Despite its array of cities with billionaires or large fortunes, China has no representative in the “Top 10” of Hurun, headed by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Moreover, there is only one Asian on the list: Mukesh Ambani, president and largest shareholder of Reliance Industries. Most of the tycoons of that select club have their home in the US.
Image: Steven Wei
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism