Russia. Bear market.
At the time of transition, there were hopes that Russia would transform itself into a high-skilled, high-income economy with strong social protection programs inherited from the Soviet Union era. This is almost a parody of what happened. Efforts were made at the outset to distribute state assets equitably. Most of the housing stock was given away to residents and a voucher scheme for Gazprom shares resulted in a million Russian citizens becoming shareholders. But other choice assets in resource-rich companies went to the chosen few, and subsequent developments in a nation notorious for weak institutions have reinforced the importance of political connections at the expense of managerial and entrepreneurial talent.
While the country’s future prospects may be appropriately bearish, the past decade has seen robust growth fuelled by a world hungry for the natural resources that Russia has in abundance. Based on constant exchange rates, household wealth has risen eightfold, from USD 1,700 in 2000 to USD 13,600 today. Wealth per adult has recovered from the postcrisis lows, but is still below the peak achieved in 2007, when less than RUB 25 bought USD 1; now it takes nearly RUB 32.
The quality of Russia’s wealth data is mixed. Financial balance sheets are now available and indicate that gross financial assets average a little over USD 4,000 per adult. There is less information available on real assets, but our estimates suggest that they are twice as high. Personal debt grew by a factor of 20 during 2000–07, but still remains quite low at USD 1,260 per adult.
Excluding small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires, wealth inequality in Russia is the highest in the world.
Worldwide there is one billionaire for every USD 194 billion in household wealth; Russia has one billionaire for every USD 15 billion. Worldwide, billionaires collectively account for less than 2% of total household wealth; in Russia today, around 100 billionaires own 30% of all personal assets.
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