Living Ever Larger in the Lap of Luxury

The rich have become so rich that just selling to the rich can make you the world’s richest person, writes Sam Pizzigati.

Monte Carlo, Monaco, during the Super yacht Show of 2012. (Steve Corey, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Sam Pizzigati

Some inequality-related stats don’t tell us much of anything about the world we inhabit. Some inequality-related stats tell us almost everything. Like this one: At one point last month, the largest private fortune in the world — all $186.3 billion of it — belonged to a billionaire who makes his money selling luxuries to rich people.

That billionaire — Bernard Arnault, the CEO of the French luxury retail chain Luis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, or LVMH for short — has been vying for first place in the global personal wealth rankings all this spring. He currently sits in the second spot, behind only Jeff Bezos and in front of Elon Musk, just one good day on Wall Street away from regaining the Bloomberg Billionaire Index top billing.

Arnault first garnered that top billing on May 24, on the heels of an incredible spurt in the size of his personal fortune. Over the previous 14 months, Arnault’s net worth had soared an almost unfathomable $110 billion.

Let’s contemplate, for a moment, the context of that awesomely obscene wealth windfall. The 14 months that witnessed Arnault’s rise to billionaire glory also witnessed Covid’s deadly march across our planet. Over the course of those 14 months, average working people worldwide lost wages, jobs, and lives at rates no one alive today had ever before seen. Over that same span of time, the world’s wealthy found themselves with the wherewithal to buy enough luxury to make the world’s leading purveyor of nonessential amenities the richest man on the face of the Earth.

Arnault’s LVMH owns over 70 luxury brands, everything from Tiffany and Givenchy to Christian Dior. Based on first-quarter 2021 revenue figures, LVMH appears to be on pace this year to pocket over $56 billion in revenues.

Bernard Arnault in 2017. (Jérémy Barande, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

A good many of those billions will be coming from that narrow slice of humanity that marketers to the super rich have dubbed “ultra high net worth individuals,” affluents who hold at least $30 million in net worth. Global wealth researchers at Knight Frank count some 520,000 of these ultras. LVMH, for its part, counts on their profligacy. The more the ultra rich spend, the greater the I-gotta-have-that luxury sales momentum in the strata of affluence just below the ultra-high-net-worth level.

Yachts that stretch only 60 feet long, after all, can start looking mighty shrimpy next to billionaire boats that stretch 300 feet and more.

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How much more? Germany’s Bremerhaven shipyard this past March launched an eight-deck 476-foot-long behemoth that reputedly set billionaire Roman Abramovich back $610 million. No big deal. Abramovich has a nearly $20-billion net worth. If his investments return a modest 5 percent this year, he can pay for his 476-footer and still end the year comfortably richer than he rated when the year started.

Our world’s bout with pandemic, notes The Financial Times, has turbocharged the overall demand for jaw-dropping yachts. Ferretti, an Italian shipbuilder, reports a “fantastic acceleration” in orders.

Symphony, Bernard Arnault’s super yacht. (Wouter Engler, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Bernard Arnault, naturally, already has a yacht. His 333-foot Symphony cost him $150 million a few years back and features a glass-bottom swimming pool on the main deck. Yachts this enormous require a sizeable outlay for annual expenses. Keeping the Symphony afloat, for instance, takes a 27-person crew. The yacht-broker rule of thumb:

Owners of super yachts need to spend 10 percent of their boat’s purchase price on annual operating costs.

Arnault is most likely spending in the neighborhood of $15 million a year to keep his super yacht pumped up and primed. Well over 99 percent of the world’s population, we should probably keep in mind, will labor their entire lives and not come close to amassing $15 million.

Does the 72-year-old Arnault ever stop to reflect on the fate of France’s most storied rich before he stepped onto the scene? The last decade of the 18th century opened with the French wealthy the toast of the wealthy world. No wealthy anywhere else on earth could match their wretched excess. That state of affairs did not end well. On the revolutionary streets of Paris, heads literally rolled. Well-groomed heads.

We don’t have tumbrils yet on the streets of contemporary Paris, or on any streets in the United States, the current home to eight of the world’s 10 richest. But today’s fabulously rich can easily guarantee themselves a tumbril-free future. They can share their wealth — or simply sit back and watch the rest of us grab back the wealth we did so much to create.

Sam Pizzigati co-edits His latest books include The Case for a Maximum Wage and The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Follow him at @Too_Much_Online.

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The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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12 comments for “Living Ever Larger in the Lap of Luxury

  1. Rod
    July 24, 2021 at 01:58

    This article reeks of jealousy, and envy. Like something from a proletariat meeting of the World Communist Collective. Yes the subject of the story are wealthy. What are their individual stories whereby they achieved that wealth? how much have they put on the line to achieve that goal?
    They are at least spending their money , putting people to work building their ships ,manning them and their aircraft and servicing their very demanding personal requirements. They are not wholly to blame for their wealth. It takes a special type of sycophant to purchase what they are selling ,in an endeavor to emulate the lifestyle of those being blamed. Worry about yourselves , not how far in front others are Envy is the basis of evil.

  2. July 23, 2021 at 09:42

    Actually, a $610 million yacht seems quite frugal compared to $5.5 billion for a 4 minute joy ride in space.

  3. Bruce Dickson
    July 23, 2021 at 08:12

    That kind of wealth will buy them Eric Prince for protection, remote, fortified estates, top spots in the 5-star deep-underground accommodations carved below the mountains of Colorado and elsewhere and the private jets and helicopters required to spirit them there on demand.

    It also buys the kind of influence over governments that will incorporate the costs into their budgets, allowing for the likes of you and me to get saddled with them.

    Add to those the costs of developing and implementing a global panopticon that spies on every single one of us 24/7. With their omnipresent sigint tied to their AI-powered predictive programming (e.g., “here are other titles you might like”), they won’t just see us readying the tumbrils, they’ll predict when we’ll begin seriously thinking of doing so; and they’ll know which of us needs to be removed from the equation before events have any chance to gather momentum.

    But, in the event the above is not enough, they have used our money to develop weaponry, some of it space-based, to rain down unprecedented destruction on us expendables anywhere, at any time. At least some of their number have told us to our face that they’d be happy to see our numbers reduced to 500 million. Thus, being quite available to them, the means by which that might happen are rather secondary considerations, I should think.

    Oh, they have learned a great deal since the days of Madame La Guillotine. Or, more precisely, they have paid others quite lavishly (hello, Henry Kissinger) to learn it for them. And learned it well, they did.

    Well, but not perfectly…

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      July 23, 2021 at 15:23

      I am rather happy that Plutocrats are eventually headed to Pluto once they privately suck off Mars. But would they have the good sense to leave Earth without ravishing its numerous resourses any further in pursuit of their egoistical outerspace romps or are they primarily feigning space trips simply to later banish the bulk of humanity into space and pocket and privatize Earth for themselves and their loyal dogs in case their current bitches turn out to be flirty and unfaithful during their absence !

  4. Cara MariAnna
    July 22, 2021 at 23:26

    These people are truly the poorest among us. Hard though it is for me, they are deserving of compassion. One has to be absolutely empty, starving inside, to consume so much. Imagine the misery of being surrounded by opulence and never having enough. Never being happy or satisfied. How wretched.

    • Marie-France Germain
      July 24, 2021 at 13:59

      It may seem weird, but that is exactly how I see these individuals as having been either really abused as children and youth without the benefit of a secure sense/guarantee, of the unconditional love of parents and family or they believed they weren’t loved or secure even when they were. Hence their need to fill themselves with things that ultimately fail to bring them lasting joy or soulful peace.

  5. Zhu
    July 22, 2021 at 19:35

    Our plutocrats are not really smart. Mostly they are chancers who got lucky. They don’think about the French Revolution or any of the myriad other times the too poor have attacked the too rich. They think nothing bad can really happen to them. Hence, ignoring Global Warming.

    • robert e williamson jr
      July 24, 2021 at 16:06

      You are right, that is why the corrupt dimocons play billion dollar wiffle – ball ( americon style politics) with the repugnicons.

      Trumps big lie claim is B.S. the big lie is that the dimocons and the repugnicons pleasure each other at the expense of Americans freedom and liberty.

      The big CON is alive and well and neither party wants to discuss the issue. Just ask them.

      Mr. Pizzigat tells us as much in his title and lead in.

      “Living Ever larger In the Lap of Luxury” , which is the reason for all the corruption or the “Why”.

      “The rich have become so rich that just selling to the rich can make you the worlds richest person, . . . ” and this explains the how.

      One simply needs to witness the incest between the Saudi’s and the U.S. war making defense industry that has us all by the short hairs. The government for plutocrats is driven by their plutocon.

      Thanks CN

  6. July 22, 2021 at 14:18

    “some people are so poor all they have is money” springs to mind…

  7. Skip Edwards
    July 22, 2021 at 12:01

    I wonder how being alone on his mega yacht feels?

    • July 23, 2021 at 10:19

      Actually, he will never be alone. He will always be surrounded with sycophants trying to suck off some of his fame and wealth. Money draws these parasites like shit draws flies.

      I think I would rather be alone.

  8. Vera Gottlieb
    July 22, 2021 at 10:43

    People like these just plain disgust me – have absolutely NO use for them.

Comments are closed.