Brooke Harrington, a professor of economic sociology at the Copenhagen Business School, spent ten years talking to the ‘wealth managers’ of the super rich. In The Guardian, she discusses how the habits of the wealthy mirror the supposed ‘pathologies’ of the poor, but generate a completely different reaction.
When someone in receipt of benefits uses their money to buy, say, cigarettes, alcohol, a posh tub of ice cream or even their children’s Christmas presents, they’re denounced as lazy, profligate and undeserving.
But when the idle rich – those also who lack jobs and survive off trust funds and inheritance money – are revealed to have chaotic personal problems themselves, it’s met with intrigue and sometimes even envy.
It’s the job of wealth managers to make sure the secrets of the rich, financial and personal, stay secret. They are the keepers of the 1%.
The most striking paragraph in Harrington’s article is where she relates a conversation she had with one of the super-rich in his Dubai apartment. He, like thousands of other less fortunate UK citizens, is of no fixed abode. But for him homelessness is a tax avoidance strategy:
“I am not tax resident anywhere. The tax man says ‘show me a utility bill’, and the only utility bill I can present is for the house I own in Thailand, and it’s in a language that the European authorities aren’t familiar with. With all the mobility going on in the world, international marriages, governments can’t keep up with people.”
Despite my best efforts, I find imagining what really goes on in their lives fascinating. The decadence and moral corruption of the ultra-rich has been well documented in films like The Wolf of Wall Street. But what of their wealth managers?
This I find more interesting. What can it be like to know the secrets of the world’s elite and be paid to keep them under wraps? What trials must they go through in the service of such people? One wealth manager, who says his clients believe they’re descended from the Pharaohs, hopes someone shoots him if he ever becomes like his clients. What makes him persist in helping them be that way?
Brooke Harrington has written an entire book on them and the techniques they use to hide their clients from the state and media, which I intend to read.