FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

No Country for Rich Men

Back in 1863, a short story took the American reading public by storm. Edward Everett Hale’s “The Man without a Country” told the tale of a poor treasonous soul sentenced to spend the rest of his life endlessly sailing the world in perpetual exile, as a prisoner aboard Navy warships.

Today’s awesomely affluent are just as transient – by choice.

Take Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. This billionaire renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2011, a move perfectly timed to potentially save him hundreds of millions in taxes when Facebook goes public.

Saverin has plenty of company. The number of Americans who formally renounced their U.S. citizenship soared to 1,780 last year from 235 in 2008.

The spark for this surge? U.S. tax officials ave been clamping down on overseas tax evasion. This bit of unpleasantness has some wealthy Americans, such as the Brazilian-born Saverin, cutting their ties to dear old Uncle Sam. They simply pay a $450 paperwork fee and an “exit tax” on unrealized capital gains, if they hold assets worth over $2 million or have paid over $151,000 to the IRS in any recent year.

But the affluent who’ve formally renounced their citizenship comprise just a tiny share of what the Financial Times has labeled the “stateless super rich.” These uber-wealthy folks shy from the notoriety of citizenship spurned. They just live their lives as if they have no nation to call their own.

The most famous member of this stateless-by-choice community may be Nicolas
Berggruen, a 52 year-old “homeless billionaire” worth over $2.3 billion who has spent the last decade hopping the world from one five-star hotel to another.

But few of the stateless super rich settle for hotel suites. Most of the vagabonding wealthy own personal residences. Lots of them. Typically, the Financial Times reported last month, a stateless super-rich household will have one or two properties in their “country of principal residence,” another in London, New York, or some other “global city,” a “holiday home” in a warm climate, and maybe another pad somewhere snowy.

Among the super rich, this perpetual-motion existence has become almost de rigueur, notes Jeremy Davidson, a London realtor who handles properties that run at least £10 million, the equivalent of over $16 million.

“The more money you have,” explains Davidson, “the more rootless you become because everything is possible.”

That rootlessness is keeping the price of luxury real estate soaring. So far this year, in Manhattan alone, four luxury co-op apartments have sold for over $30 million each, notes Crain’s New York Business.

Just how many potential stateless super rich are currently roaming the world? Late last year, the Singapore-based Wealth-X consulting firm put the overall global number of people worth at least $500 million at about 4,650. These super rich together hold an estimated $6.25 trillion in assets.

That’s more than enough, note urban planners, to create havoc in the hotspots where the stateless super rich most often gather. Their gentrification on steroids supersizes prices for local products and services – and prices out local residents in the process.

The massive mansions and apartments belonging to these homeless billionaires can also exacerbate local housing shortages and constitute an assault on any healthy sense of urban community. The super rich, as they flit about, leave their properties unoccupied most of the year. The resulting emptiness, notes Columbia University sociologist Saskia Sassen, sucks the neighborhood vitality out of great urban centers.

The super rich don’t notice. Or care. They have no interest in putting down roots. During their brief seasonal sojourns, they live in isolation from the greater community around them. They venture out into local public life only long enough to corrupt it with trinkets for local pols who promise to keep tax rates toothless.

The stateless protagonist in the classic short story Edward Everett Hale penned nearly 150 years ago desperately yearns to rejoin the society he so treasonously spurned. Today’s stateless super rich don’t figure to display any similar yearning. They’re having too grand a time. At our expense.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, editor of the journal Too Much and author of The Rich Don’t Always Win, Seven Stories Press, New York, forthcoming 2012.

This column is distributed by OtherWords.

More articles by:

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press). 

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail