How should we interpret the wealth of billionaires?

The great strangers

brand eins: Mr. Druyen, how do you feel as a poor professor who constantly has to deal with people who have amounts in the double or three-digit million range or are even on the billionaire list?

Thomas Druyen: You feel good. The places where I do interviews are often very beautiful. (Laughs) But seriously: A wealth researcher shouldn't feel envious of his "research objects". Fortunately, I didn't notice this trait from my parents' house.

Do the rich and super-rich you talk to take you seriously? People in this asset class are more likely to talk about money with their own kind.

It is indeed a problem. The rich and the super-rich often do not trust people with normal incomes to even begin to understand their problems. It helps that I worked as a consultant in the private banking sector for many years. From the point of view of my interlocutors, this gives me credibility: He should be able to think at least a little in our dimensions and perhaps come to a realistic assessment of the possibilities or compulsions for action.

Where does this reluctance of the rich to talk about money and the role of money in their lives come from?

The rich are exposed to stereotypes and prejudices throughout their lives. You have developed a great deal of skepticism. This clientele always feels morally available. She fears that her wealth will be perceived as a social injustice. Put simply, you are just waiting for the accusation that you got rich because you took something away from others. In many milieus, wealth is under general suspicion. There is no differentiation: Which empires have achieved a lot? And who has systematically enriched themselves dishonestly?

What does "rich" actually mean? And what "super rich"?

There is still no coherent and accepted definition. Colloquially, the term wealth is closely related to the term millionaire. That hardly works today. The million is no longer worth a million. Government agencies tend to define wealth in relation to median income. In doing so, they often start at the bottom. The specialist committees of the EU already consider people rich who have more than double the average gross earnings in Germany that would be around 60,000 euros per year. How do I relate such an amount to Bill Gates' wealth? We hardly get any further.

We took a different approach in our research. We define someone as rich who can live luxuriously on interest without having to touch their property. This limit is currently around three million euros. Private banks use the term "Ultra High Net Worth Individuals". These are people with assets in excess of $ 30 million, not including real estate they live in. For me, super wealth starts at around $ 300 million.

How is the life of a 30-time millionaire different from that of a 300-time millionaire?

In the ability to implement challenging humanitarian, entrepreneurial or visionary projects.

How many billionaires are there in Germany at the moment?

The relevant wealth rankings assume around one hundred billionaires. But to be honest, these lists have a very thin database. Blocks of shares can most easily be quantified. When it comes to real estate appraisals, one is already in the realm of speculation. And it is even more difficult for companies that are not listed on the stock exchange. When you ask rich people about their wealth, they often have no answer themselves. Based on the current state of our research, we assume that the circle of billionaires is larger than assumed. It's probably more like 120 or 130. One thing is certain: the number of the super-rich is growing, and rapidly.

Do these people feel connected to one another?

Most of them know each other. Not necessarily from parties, as one might think as a reader of the "Bunte", but rather from official events such as receptions of the Federal President or from large foundations. Of course, the economically active also know each other from supervisory boards. In my interviews I also asked the question of togetherness. Often it was denied. But it was always felt that there is something like a leap of faith among each other.

What do the non-rich know about the rich?

We once did a survey across all classes and age groups. The result: the tabloid media have succeeded in conveying a completely distorted picture of wealth in Germany. The following are considered rich: actors, athletes and other celebrities. Michael Schumacher is considered by many to be one of the richest Germans. This is nonsense. He just made it into the top 500, but is far from the billionaires list. Real wealth is almost always invisible to the general public. Even if the names of the great entrepreneurial dynasties are of course known.

How does old money differ from new money?

Dynastically wealthy people remain largely among themselves. And they continue to rely on networks that are quite powerful. This milieu is almost closed to the nouveau riche. Unless someone turns up who has a very high level of success in a credible and sustainable manner. The Haffas or Samwas have no chance of getting into such circles with their easy money. A SAP founder like Hasso Plattner, who is also socially committed, is, however.

You are also a psychologist. What does wealth mean for the individual?

There is no general answer to that. How the rich act has a lot to do with the cultural context in which people live. Rich people in the USA, Japan or Germany have very different views of their material wealth. Second, the relationship to one's own money also depends very much on how it was acquired and in what form it is available. The small-family founder has a fundamentally different relationship to his wealth than an art collecting heir or a hedge fund manager with an annual income of $ 800 million. Of course, they have one thing in common: the distance to necessity. They all know that if they don't want to, they don't have to work.

Wealth goes hand in hand with a degree of freedom of choice that is unknown to normal wage earners. Wealth means power of disposal. By that I mean having options in life. Rich are mobile. You can buy real estate wherever you want. They can make a career easier with their relationships in companies or start new businesses themselves if they feel like it. However, this also means that they have to ask themselves much more often what they actually want to do with their lives. Man is not well prepared for such freedom of choice. We are culturally and as beings reactive. Choosing from a few options, we usually get it right. With complete freedom of choice, people must develop a special competence to deal with this freedom in a meaningful way. If the rich lack this competence, they have a problem.

When does money become a burden?

More money means more independence. This basically offers a competitive advantage to build self-confidence. At the same time, additional threat scenarios arise on another level. Fear plays a major role in the mental life of many rich and super-rich. Fear of hostility, fear of loss, fear of physical threat or kidnapping are not uncommon. Almost all rich are afraid of being taken advantage of. Skepticism towards people increases sharply with wealth. Ease of dealing with others becomes more difficult, and that reduces the quality of life. Here too, of course, you have to make a strong distinction. There are a number of rich and very rich people in Germany who consciously live modestly. They drive an old 5 Series BMW while their employees are chauffeured in the S-Class. People who consciously flaunt their wealth and draw a large part of their self-confidence from their money often fall into another trap: They always compare themselves upwards. And they always find someone around them who has even more money. That doesn't exactly help personal satisfaction.

British studies suggest that there is an increased suicide rate among the super-rich.

That’s one thing with the suicide studies and their interpretation. I am careful to see a direct connection. It is obvious that even the reticent among the rich are repeatedly exposed to special psychological stress. When I no longer have to worry about my livelihood, I have to find new meaning in my life. Crises of meaning are of course also known to normal wage earners, but they are more common among the rich. This is especially true for heirs of large fortunes. They ask themselves: Do I even deserve all of this? They are often overshadowed by very dominant father figures. I'm not interested in pitying wealthy heirs, but their starting position is often difficult from a psychological point of view. They are often part of an entrepreneurial tradition and are usually expected to continue it. As an entrepreneur, however, you cannot win a flower pot. Do you successfully continue a company or even found your own, everyone says: It's easy with all the money behind you. If they fail, the glee is great.

Only mushrooms grow under a large tree.

Well, there are certainly descendants who successfully carry on their legacy. But in my conversations I notice again and again that the rich are very worried that their children will not degenerate into useless drones, as Robert Bosch once put it. But that has probably always been the case.

Has anything fundamentally changed for the rich lately?

Even the rich have to be more flexible today. In the globalized economy, the pressure has increased sharply to reorganize companies relatively quickly. This requirement weighs on the wealthy entrepreneurs in Western societies. But even the rich, who only manage their assets, do this much more actively today than in the past. For them, asset management is a form of work. The life of the rich has become more uncomfortable. The following is very often overlooked in the discussion: Wealth can also be fleeting. Many people lose their wealth again. There are no reliable figures for this phenomenon, but for the self-made rich I think a rate of at least 50 percent is realistic.

How can this be explained?

It is easy to overestimate yourself if you make money quickly. And he underestimates the competence that is needed to maintain or increase high financial assets. The statistics of lottery winners speak for themselves. A few years later, 70 percent of all winners of millions are financially worse off than they were before the big lot.

Families with old money are of course much better protected. It is noticeable that most of them do not even trust themselves to manage their assets, but rely on professional advisers and private banks. But even with old money there are relegations. That is often overlooked.

How are happiness and money related?

Only as a myth that is immediately exposed by the vernacular: Money does not make you happy. Rather, there is a connection between happiness and the hope of money. Almost everyone dreams of getting rich one day. And this dream alone can trigger feelings of happiness. Happiness research shows that poverty makes people unhappy, and that is obvious, because it is associated with problems that weigh heavily on people. As soon as a person can cover his basic needs well - this includes ensuring his children have a good education, receiving medical care - material things tend to play a subordinate role in personal satisfaction.

They differentiate between the rich and the wealthy. Why?

Wealth is a purely quantitative term. It describes financial opportunities, but not how they are used. The term wealth is associated with values. According to our definition, the wealthy are people who make part of their wealth available to the community. This distinction enables the amorphous and polemical discussion about wealth in Germany to be conducted more systematically. For this it is necessary to quantify how many wealthy people contribute to community tasks and how many rich people shirk their social responsibility. So far we know too little about the rich to be able to conduct this discussion objectively.

What is the goal of your research?

We have to learn to perceive wealth in a differentiated way. Wealthy people who get involved need to find more recognition, and not just in terms of their reputation. Politics is in demand here. Anyone who is committed to society with their wealth must receive tax breaks. And empires who indulge themselves exclusively in self-centeredness have to burden the state more heavily. It's that simple. Appeals are not enough, in any milieu. Not even with the rich and wealthy. The amendment to inheritance law offers an opportunity: Anyone who contributes or donates parts of their inheritance to foundations should be largely exempt from inheritance tax. For the others, the tax offices have to get hold of it appropriately.

When does money actually get too much?

In my opinion, there is no such thing as "too much" money. In free societies, what matters is what happens to the abundance. And there are endless possibilities to turn the winners' profits back into social capital. We must use the winners 'profits to make up for the losers' losses. The problem is not the much-cited gap between rich and poor, but absolute poverty. We have to get rid of them. And I don't see any other clientele in the world who would be better able to do this than the rich. If they go along with this, they will also be granted the third S-Class from the bottom of my heart. -