What are the uses of wealth

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In 2014, the Forbes list of the richest people in the world appeared for the 28th time. [1] When it was first published in 1986, the banking and investment industry responded to the increase in the number of millionaires in order to show economically attractive capital owners and to make it clear how wealth is distributed and changed. This drew attention to a development that had not been of great importance in the USA or Europe in the previous decades: the accumulation of assets owned by individuals who could possibly operate around the world. [2] Until the 1980s, these represented only a tiny group. Employment, the income linked to it and the class affiliation were considered to be the most important factors for classifying social positions. So it was only logical that the subject of wealth was hardly an object of debate and research in economics and not in sociology. Discourses of class theory and class theory on the "leveled medium-sized society" dominated. [3]

Looking back, it can be seen that in the period from 1950 to around 1970, due to currency changes, burden sharing and other regulations, assets in German private ownership did not increase significantly. In the years that followed, from 1971 to 1992, net household wealth began to diverge versus disposable income, and this has continued into the present. While the ratio of net wealth to disposable income was three times as much in 1970, it increased to 3.6 times by 1993 and was 4.6 times in 2005. [4] At the same time, the number of millionaires has increased over the past 20 years and, more recently, that of billionaires. In 2012 there were 12 million millionaires and 1,645 billionaires worldwide, and across Germany there were just over a million millionaires. [5]

The historical development of the post-war period made it initially unnecessary to deal with the small group of the rich. Only their increase in numbers and the resulting restructuring of the economic composition of the population prompted this. Classic terms such as "elites" or "oligarchs" no longer seemed to describe the growing group of rich people satisfactorily. [6] As a result of these changes, the question arose of who "the rich" are anyway.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the federal government reacted to this change in the 1980s and 1990s, the increase in the number of rich people on the one hand and the unemployed and social welfare recipients on the other hand, with simultaneous cross-generational consolidation of poverty in a few social groups and increasing inequalities Poverty and wealth report. In the meantime, four reports have been published (2001, 2005, 2008, 2013) in which the development of income distribution and, most recently, wealth in society are traced. Internationally, the OECD has also responded to income and wealth developments with corresponding reports. [7]

The aim of wealth research is therefore to classify the numerically more relevant group of the rich in terms of their social significance, to understand and explain the origins and the use of wealth. For this purpose, individual-based quantitative data are indispensable, as they enable individual or household-related statements to be made about the living situation of the rich. These studies can of course hardly be representative, since the samples relate to a small group of around one to two percent of the population. [8] Add to this qualitative studies, with the help of which it is possible to examine the realities of life of the rich, especially the super-rich and billionaires, in detail and in detail. The use of individual-based quantitative and qualitative data makes it possible to create a social profile of this group and to look at the creation and use of wealth.

Concept and understanding of wealth research

We use the term wealth research to denote an interdisciplinary research program that has been developing in Germany and internationally over the past ten years. This program has two goals: Firstly, it is about describing the circumstances and the reality of life of the rich, mainly in Germany, and explaining the origins of such outstanding economic positions. Wealth research examines the structural relationships in which rich people live and focuses on structural features that have a long-term effect. The social reality of rich people is explained from the "objective" contexts of conditions and understood in their subjective contexts of action.

Second, such exceptional positions inevitably raise the question of how wealth is used. The focus here is not on the lifestyle, but on the question of a "responsible" approach. The wealth researcher Thomas Druyen describes wealth as a concept of action as follows: "We can do something because we want to. We can do something because we can. We can do something because we are ready to achieve something." [9] The terms ability and possibility refer to a future action, to the potential, with which the desirable, which can be realized through the available resources, is the focus. In the case of wealthy people who are socially involved, it is therefore a question of specific wealth converted into action.

In contrast to the conventional analysis of the stratification system of society, four new approaches can be identified in wealth research: (1) It does not only refer to statistical cross-sectional information on distributions, but also uses targeted individual data in order to be able to make statements about the group of the rich. (2) It refers to a concept of wealth that focuses on assets rather than income as its base. The social position of the rich therefore does not depend on individual earned or household income, but on wealth. (3) It records the genesis of wealth as a multifactorial phenomenon: Wealth can arise through marriage, inheritance, entrepreneurship or gainful employment and is therefore to be understood as a heterogeneous phenomenon that extends from the "millionaire next door" [10] to the billionaire . (4) Finally, the focus is on the use of wealth through philanthropic action and the motives that guide action.