Germany: The Discrete Lives of Germany’s Super Rich
This is a documentary about German billionaires, which are more prevalent in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. Der Spiegel’s Manager Magazine compiles and annual list of Germany’s 1001 richest people. Assets of at least $100 million to make the list, which includes 170-180 billionaires. All but one are men.
German billionaires are far less ostentatious than their US, Chinese or Russian counterparts. Shunning conspicuous consumption, most try to hide their wealth. They express fear of provoking envy and the risk of break-ins or having their children kidnapped. Families with inherited wealth are afraid its links to the Third Reich will be exposed.
The filmmakers found a handful of billionaires willing to be interviewed, including a multibillionaire who owes his wealth to a self-service drug store chain, the founder of a chain of fitness studios and a hearing aid manufacturer. Unlike the US, there are no big tech, athlete or movie star billionaires.
Rather than directly lobbying political leaders (as in the US), German billionaires tend to lobby the German government indirectly through their business associations. There is always the implied (or expressed) threat they will leave Germany and take tens of thousands of jobs with them.
In Germany, the last 25 years as seen a big spike in wealth inequality. Average wages and corporate and wealth taxes have declined as billionaire wealth has increased exponentially.
The billionaires interviewed uniformly oppose restoring former tax rates to help reduce poverty. What I find most striking about the film is their failure to recognize their obscene fortunes as a wealth transfer from low income people. In many cases, it’s clearly a wealth transfer from their own workers, whose wages have been steadily squeezed by German productivity policies.