WITHERSWORLDWIDE has created a new Attitudes to Wealth report which gathers the views of high-profile global opinion formers to present a timely, in-depth exploration of how the wealthy are perceived around the world and where the opportunities are to leverage success to generate meaningful changes in society.
The research highlights how wealth and the wealthy are perceived very differently between Asia and the West. Suspicion of wealth and criticism of the motives of the wealthy were mentioned by all of the report’s European and US commentators. By contrast, in Asia generating wealth is viewed as an aspiration by most and there is much more optimism that economic growth will lead to happier societies.
Interestingly, the wealth inequality gap in Asia is not viewed as unfair, compared to in the West. In some societies, in this instance China and India, people see it as a hurdle they wish to overcome for themselves and their families.
According to the report, the economic activities of the wealthy are more visible in Asia than in the West. People can see what they are doing and the business they are generating, whereas in Europe and other parts of the world, wealth is tied up in less visible assets. This also leads to the trickle-down effects of wealth being more evident to Asian communities.
There are, however, very differing perceptions on how the wealthy should contribute to society. In China there is a clear government push for wealthy people to give back to the community. In India, on the other hand, philanthropy is considered essential for the wealthy, especially in communities stricken by extreme poverty. While in Japan, there is more emphasis on harmony and a desire to avoid conspicuous possession of wealth.
On the issue of tax, it is viewed across Asia as a cost of business and citizenship that should be minimized where possible, and social responsibility for supporting the state is not strongly felt.
Generational differences were also observed by the respondents. Most notably, in Asia there is a sense of the younger generation seeking to engage their newly inherited wealth with more progressive trends, therefore creating pressure through generations of families as well as between employers and employees. For example, in Hong Kong, if a company does not appear to be socially responsible, they will not be able to secure the best Millennial hires.
The report notes that the term “Globalism”, when it was first introduced, was positive. Post-2008, it has grown increasingly negative as it becomes associated with excess immigration and the unfair treatment of workers. The report sees the impact of this in increasingly populist and nationalist themes being debated in politics across the world.
“While our opinion formers were unanimous that wealth creators are vital in solving global issues, the accelerating inequality of wealth is a main concern,” says Nigel Sprunt, global business development and marketing director, Withersworldwide. “There is also a growing concern that global wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, which in turn presents too much political influence for those few people. And unsurprisingly, global opinion formers felt that the wealthy should make fair financial contributions to society, whether in the form of paying tax or undertaking philanthropy.”