Members have that many in their net worth. I'm definitely a 1-comma guy, though with hopes of gaining a second; hopes that are now decidedly dim. A 3-comma person has assets of $1,000,000,000 or more; he or she is a billionaire. Forbes, which makes a study of such data, says the world has 2,208. One person per 3.4 million.
585 of them reside in the US, and the magazine's current issue shows how the 2,208 are distributed around the world. China has 373, Russia 102 and the UK, whence I hail, has a quite respectable 54 or 1 per 1.2 million. I paused on that page, and noticed with surprise that while most of them live in London, the city with the second highest count (3) is none other than Stoke on Trent. I was born in an adjacent town.
Stoke was prosperous for a century and a half after Josiah Wedgewood did his pioneering work with high-production, high-quality ceramics, so that in my youth the whole area was known as "the Potteries"; but by then cleaner processes were being developed abroad, and stagnation was setting in. Hence my surprise at the current re-emergence of wealth.
Two of the three Stoke 3-commanarians are Mr & Mrs Coates, who own an on-line gambling firm called Bet356. Good for them. Good that Her Majesty's Government has not been so stupid as to outlaw such enterprises. The third is John Caudwell, at whom the following takes a closer look.
Caudwell had a working-class childhood, and lost his father when 18. He joined the Michelin Tyre factory as an apprentice, just along the road from where my uncle had run a furniture store, and rose to be a foreman in his 20s. Simultaneously, he worked evenings to build a mail-order venture selling motor-biker clothing, and made it pay. So he was a hard-working young man with a flair for business, yet never came within a hundred miles of an MBA.
At age 35, in 1987, he correctly foresaw the coming mega-boom in cell phones, and bought 26 of them from Motorola at $1,500 each. It took him two years to sell them, for a 30% markup. So he was patient and persistent as well as hard working with a business flair. That was his basis for developing as a mobile-phone retailer while their prices tumbled and demand exploded. He founded Phones4U, with a retail store in every Main Street in the Kingdom. By the time he sold the firm in 2006 for over $2 billion, he was employing nearly 6,000 people.
He retailed phones from a variety of suppliers, and his sharp foresight perceived by 2006 that these firms would eventually bypass Phones4U by opening their own retail stores, so he sold up - and again he was right. Ten years later the new owners of his firm were on the ropes and last year it went bust. He had made a fortune building it up, and another one by selling it near the peak. He predicted when the opportunity would develop, and when it would end. That's talent!
So far, so great; I love a good success story. Caudwell has other merits; he gives generously to charities, notably those helping disadvantaged children, particularly by founding his own, Caudwell Children - one of whose tenets is not to use vaccines. But then my admiration for him fades.
Firstly he makes a play of having signed-on to the Buffet / Gates "pledge" to give away half his fortune. He may well enjoy doing exactly that, but I dislike the implication in that scheme that it is a good or desirable or meritorious thing, to give half of one's earnings to charity. Why? - why not use them to create some new business, to make extra fortunes, employ extra people, develop extra technologies to enhance the quality of life for all mankind? Such capitalist expansion is what has abolished grinding poverty in large portions of the world. Yes, giving help to the helpless is noble and rewarding - but giving opportunity to those who can grasp it is just as noble or more so.
Then - and far worse - Caudwell has openly said that the wealthy should "pay their fair share" of tax, just as if that too was praiseworthy. For three reasons, it is blatantly false: (1) there can be no such thing as a fair tax, since a "fair" transaction can only be one to which both (or all) parties have freely consented; (2) since paying tax is forced, not optional, no choice is involved and therefore morality does not enter the transaction; and (3) tax goes to fund a totally evil organization called government, so if in any degree it were possible to avoid a tax the moral choice would be to with-hold the payment, not to make it. Why does such a talented man have such a grotesque view of the subject? - and we can ask the same question of others, like Buffet, Gates, Zuckerberg... though not of the Koch brothers.
All of these highly successful people began brilliantly, and owed nothing to government. After success came, though, many seem to have joined the enemy. In the case of Bill Gates, the State's dead hand was raised against him in an anti-trust lawsuit in 1998, causing an immense waste of resources that might otherwise have been used to advance yet faster the world's profitable use of PCs and the Internet. It is beyond disgusting that the State (which is an absolute monopoly) should find fault with Microsoft for allegedly monopolizing a market which that firm had almost single-handedly created. Nonetheless, following the settlement Bill Gates was noticably more respectful of government and spoke with more conformity to the standards of political correctness. The State had bullied him into line.
Similarly all the big social-media firms, despite their origins as servants of individuals wishing to communicate with other individuals, have become agents of the State surveillance machinery - some (eg Google) more willingly than others. The State is a non-creative encumbrance, but seems very good at waiting for someone to innovate and grow wealthy, and then to co-opt him to becoming its servant. Mussolini would have applauded.
Many government junkies are indignant that wealth should be concentrated in "one percent" of the population, but as shown by In and Out of the 1%, a much larger fraction is wealthy for a short time only - the super-rich class is rather mobile so many have a chance to join it. The indignation is ill placed. It would be far better aimed at the 0.0001% who are billionaires and who have joined not just the 3-Comma Club but also the Archist Society, known also as the ruling class.
When that ruling class has vanished in the coming zero government society, there will be a lot more rich folk. But not one of them will be urging anyone to pay his fair share of taxes.