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Why Do These Powerful Billionaires Believe We’re Heading Toward Social Unrest?

Some of the super-rich are warning that if capitalism doesn’t become more humane, then acts of social unrest will increase. (Image:Surian Soosay/Flickr)
Some of the super-rich are warning that if capitalism doesn’t become more humane, then acts of social unrest will increase. (Image:Surian Soosay/Flickr)

There’s diminishing confidence on the direction that we’re heading. It might be common for the disenfranchised to speak up about it, but this year we’ve seen some of the super-rich do similar.

The latest was South African billionaire Johann Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury goods company Richemont, who said on Monday that tension between the rich and poor is set to escalate as robotics and artificial intelligence fuel mass unemployment.

Will further technological advances result in more people being out of work and social unrest? (James Lee/Flickr)

Will further technological advances result in more people being out of work and social unrest? (James Lee/Flickr)

“We cannot have 0.1 percent of 0.1 percent taking all the spoils,” Rupert said at the Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit in Monaco, according to Bloomberg.

It’s unfair and it is not sustainable.

Rupert sees advances in technology taking away more jobs and that the struggles between social classes will mean that the high end luxury market will be trickier because the affluent will not want to show off their prosperity.

The National Guard on the streets of Baltimore during civil unrests in April this year.  As the wealth gap increases, there are fears that tensions between the rich and poor will escalate, creating social unrest. (Maryland National Guard /Flickr)

The National Guard on the streets of Baltimore during civil unrest in April this year. As the wealth gap increases, there are fears that tensions between the rich and poor will escalate, creating social unrest. (Image: Maryland National Guard /Flickr)

“How is society going to cope with structural unemployment and the envy, hatred, and the social warfare?” he said. “We are destroying the middle classes at this stage, and it will affect us. It’s unfair. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.”

Rupert, who Bloomberg estimates has a personal fortune of $7.5 billion, says the collateral damage from the 2008 financial crisis is yet to come.

“We’re in for a huge change in society,” he said. “Get used to it. And be prepared.”

A 2004 image of South African billionaire Johann Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont. (Image: Wikipedia)

A 2004 image of South African billionaire Johann Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont. (Image: Wikipedia)

Three unsavory possibilities

Rupert’s concerns about the wealth gap are also echoed by hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, who said at a TED talk a few months ago that this year could be “disastrous.”

“The gap between the 1 per cent and the rest of America, and between the U.S. and the rest of the world, cannot and will not persist,” he said.

“Now, here’s a macro forecast that’s easy to make, and that’s that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, it will get closed. History always does it,” he said.

“It typically happens in one of three ways—either through revolution, higher taxes, or wars. None of those are on my bucket list.”

Thankfully, Jones offers a way out, but to do that corporate America, and capitalism as it is currently practiced, need to make fundamental changes and become more humane. See his talk below:

Plan B for the super-rich

But many of the super-rich are buying bolt holes in far flung regions in case widespread civil unrest does occur, says Robert Johnson, president of the Institute of New Economic Thinking.

“I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” he said at Davos earlier this year, according to the Mirror.

You can see an interview with Johnson at Davos below:

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