France might have record unemployment, but it also has a record number of billionaires, according to an annual survey by French economics magazine Challenges.
The “Hexagone” as France is often referred to, is now home to 67 billionaires, compared to 55 last year.
While purchasing power of the average Joe or Pierre has either stagnated or taken a hit, the fortunes of those at the top of scale could not be more contrasting.
According to Challenges the richest 500 “runners” in France have seen their wealth increase by 15 percent in the last year, meaning they now amass just under €400 billion between them.
A similar phenomenon can be seen across Europe with the Swiss magazine Bilan estimating that the wealth of the 300 richest residents of Switzerland, 15 of whom are French, has shot up by 12 percent in the last year.
Challenges argues the jump in wealth is not just due to the good health of their companies but also because of the willingness of central banks to lend money at extremely low rates, which is then invested in luxury goods, property, and leading businesses.
The study comes at a time when French economist Thomas Piketty is making a stir around the world with a new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” which highlights how the increasing share of total wealth is in the hands of the richest.
Piketty uses data from the past two centuries across 20 countries to demonstrate how inherited wealth has ensured the dominance of a small class of people and will continue to do so unless action is taken.
According to Piketty the richest one percent of the French population owns 25 percent of the country’s wealth.
And when it comes to the country’s richest one percent, at the the top of the podium is by Bernard Arnault, the head of luxury group LVMH (Louis-Vuitton Moët Hennessy) who has a healthy €27 billion of loose change in his bank account – that’s €2.7 billion more than last year.
In second place is France’s richest woman Liliane Bettencourt, who has €26 billion to fall back on in hard times and in third place is Gérard Mulliez, founder of the Auchan group, who has €20 billion in his pockets.
The list of the wealthiest French people also include industrialist and Senator Serge Dassault (13.5 billion), who was recently charged with vote buying, Axel Dumas (17 billion) owner of the luxury Hermes brand.