What is the collective noun for plutocrats? A plethora, perhaps? If so London has a plethora. And a big one.
According to the Sunday Times newspaper, the British capital is now home to 72 billionaires – many of them foreigners. Indian steel magnates, Russian energy oligarchs and Greek shipping tycoons.
With 72 of them, London has more billionaires than any other city on the planet. New York has only 48. That abundance of rich people is not exactly fueling national pride in Britain. In fact it’s stoking fresh concern about growing income inequality – especially in London.
Not that wealthy London residents see themselves as part of the problem.
Yvgeny Chichvarkin – reportedly worth around $250 million — does not even regard himself as a member of a metropolitan elite.
“Compared with people on the Forbes rich list, I’m rather poor,” he says, while sitting in his business premises in London’s exclusive Mayfair district.
Chichvarkin made his fortune from the sale of the cellphone business he built from scratch in Russia before he settled in London. He claims that he does not flaunt his money.
“I drive an eleven-year old Porsche,” he says. “And although I love good food and wine, if I’m busy I will buy a hamburger for lunch.”
While he plays down his own wealth, the 39-year old entrepreneur is more than happy to cater to the extravagant needs of the super-rich. His main British business is an exclusive wine store called HEDONISM; located just off Berkeley Square.
It stocks some of the finest and most expensive vintages in the world. Chichvarkin is particularly proud of his Chateu d’Yquem 1811 Sauternes – for $160,000. Yes, that’s $160,000 for one bottle.
“I’m sure we will sell it,” he says. “We have – two different customers – who are thinking about buying it.”
Running a business in London’s richest neighborhood, rubbing shoulders with the wealthy, surrounded by opulence, Chichvarkon is not worried about London’s growing inequality.
“It’s not so terrible like in Russia or Venezuela,” he shrugs. “Poor people in the UK have hot food, clear water, and a TV. And a mobile phone. They’re not really poor, like Russian poor people.”
The Russian begrudges paying what he calls “crazy taxes” to fund the benefits of Britain’s “idle poor.”
“A lot of them do nothing. But our shop creates a lot of taxes for them to do nothing,” he says.
He says he’s ticked off that if he sells that one bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, the sales tax alone will keep two or three people on welfare for a year.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.