The rise and rise of Britain’s billionaires

Money, money, money: Valerie Moran is the first-ever black female entrepreneur on the Rich List.

Do billionaires make their wealth at the expense of others? Yesterday, The Sunday Times published its annual Rich List, including a record 151 billionaires. Where does their money come from?

Yesterday, The Sunday Times published its annual list of the 1,000 wealthiest people in the UK.

Those at the top are still getting richer. The combined wealth of everyone on the list is a record £771.3 billion. You need £120 million to be included. There are now a record 151 billionaires in the UK.

Where does all this money come from? Many people on the list are entrepreneurs, like the inventor James Dyson. Others are entertainers like Ed Sheeran, now the richest young musician in the UK.

They have earned money the way most people do: through work. They use their talents to create something people want.

But there are other ways of getting rich. If you scan the list for the source of people’s wealth, one word appears over and over: property.

This falls under the second way of earning money, as explained by the historian Rutger Bregnan: by being a “rentier”.

He defines this as: “Leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit.”

In the past, this might have meant building a tollgate on a bridge, and forcing people to pay to get across. Today, he says, rentiers are bankers or property moguls. They do not make anything new, but their wealth soars anyway.

Get rich quick?

This is unfair, say some. The rich use their wealth to make even more money for themselves. It rarely trickles down to ordinary people. The Sunday Times wrote that many of the rich are preparing to move their money abroad to avoid paying taxes. The system is broken.

But is there really anything wrong with protecting your own fortune? Surely most of us want to do the same? Besides, the same people being slammed as “rentiers” help to create jobs for others. This helps to drive economies (and societies) forward.

You Decide

  1. Is it immoral to be a billionaire?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have sold an app you created for £1 billion. What would you do with the money? How much would you spend, and how much would you save? Work out a plan and share it with the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

Epictetus

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The list is based on estimates of the wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000. “We measure […] land, property, racehorses, art or significant shares in publicly quoted companies,” the paper explains. “We exclude bank accounts — to which we have no access.”
What do we not know?
How much money the people on the list really have. “The actual size of their fortunes may be much larger.”

Word Watch

Wealthiest
At the very top of the list are Sri and Gopi Hinduja, worth £22 billion. It is the third time the brothers have topped the list.
Entrepreneurs
Person who sets up a business.
James Dyson
Worth £12.6 billion. Although he is most famous for inventing vacuum cleaners, Dyson is currently working on electric cars, robotics and AI.
Property
Last month The Guardian reported that half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population.
Rutger Bregnan
The historian caused a stir at Davos in January when he criticised billionaires for not paying taxes. (See Become an Expert.)
Leveraging
To have influence over something or people to control what happens.
Moguls
Important or powerful person.

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