Here is the full transcript of Norwegian comedian Harald Eia’s TEDx Talk on Where In The World Is It Easiest To Get Rich? at TEDxOslo conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Where in the world is it easiest to get rich by Harald Eia at TEDxOslo
Where in the world is it easiest to get rich?
That’s the question I asked my professor when I studied sociology in the early ‘90s, because he was having a lecture about social democracies, Scandinavian welfare state, and he was a classical left-wing sociology professor. And he could not hide his enthusiasm when he talked about these egalitarian societies with no rich people and no poor people.
But I, on the other hand, I was writing my master thesis about rich people. So when I interviewed my informants from the upper classes, they all said the same thing: life in Scandinavia is tough. We have to work twice as hard to earn money, because we have to struggle against high taxes, strong unions controlling the wages and a generous welfare state that makes people lazy. As one rich guy told me, he said they call it a social security net. Well, I call it hammock.
And as every aspiring social scientists, I had — starting to go native, I started to feel sympathy for these rich people. And that’s why I raised my hand and asked by professor: well, what if you don’t care so much about equality, what if your dream is to become rich, where in the world should I have been born to become really rich?
I still remember the puzzled look on my professor’s face but he answered the best he could, something like, “Well, if that’s your goal in life, you should probably have been born in a society with free markets, low taxes, and minimal government intervention. And that if you want to become rich, you should probably not study sociology.”
And that was a good answer and the best guess we had back then, that is until I saw that the University of Oslo professor in economy [Kalle Moene] actually had checked the facts: where in the world is easiest to get rich?
And before I share with you where you should go to earn money, we have to define rich. The UN talks about the poverty line, you know, if you earn less than $1 a day, maybe $2 a day, but we have to define the richness line, it’s a more fun line actually. And the most reliable report when it comes to rich people, The Wealth Report, they set the richness line at individuals with net worth more than $30 million, and in the consultant jargon, these people are called UHNWs, that is ultra-high-net worth individuals. That guy by the way is not rich, it’s just a model. Actually on the lower part of the model, all right. And I say some money about keeping the watermark there as well. Smart.
So according to The Wealth Report, there are more than 170,000 UHNWs in the world and here’s the top five list of countries with most rich people. Number five, China with more than 8,000; UK, Germany, Japan, and on top of course United States with more than 40,000 rich people.
But of course, we’re not interested in the absolute numbers here. We are interested in rick people per capita per million inhabitants. And if we leave out the pure tax havens, like Cyprus and Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Monaco, who have an artificially huge share of rich people, it turns out that we have on number five Denmark with 179 rich people per million inhabitants; Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and on top Norway.
But where’s the US? On place 13. So what happened to my old professor’s, you know, social democracies, there are no rich people there. But okay, $30 million, that’s a pocket money in a country like the US where people can get insanely rich. Look at the watermark again.
So let’s raise the richness line up from $30 million up to $1 billion. And the most reliable source here is the Forbes Billionaires List and according to the Forbes, if you look at billionaires per million inhabitants, on number five, Germany 1.2 billionaires per million inhabitants; United States 1.7, Norway 2, Sweden 2.4, and on top Iceland with 3.1, with a single billionaire Thor Bjorgolfsson. He could have been a model.
So, but the point is United States 1.7, Scandinavia taken as a whole 2.1, and the big mystery is how can this be, how can Bernie Sanders’ dream societies, these socialist paradises be such a breeding place for rich people? That’s a mystery.
And there are two reasons. Reason number one is free education. Social democracies give free higher education to everybody and cheap student loans and grants, and we can – that enables more people to use their talents and earn money. We can see this in the social mobility numbers. Imagine all fathers in a society and we divide them into five groups based on income from the bottom fifth up to the top fifth. And then we look at their sons and then divide their income into five steps, and we see how many sons of the fathers from the bottom income and up on top, how many sons goes from rags to riches?
If it was perfect social mobility, if the talents and opportunities were equally distributed, 20% from the bottom would end up on each of these five ladders. So let’s look at the numbers for the different countries. In Denmark, they’re pretty close to perfect social mobility with 14%, goes from rags to riches; in Norway 12, Sweden 11, United States 8. Because of free education there are more self-made men in Scandinavia than in the US.