The British crown, the French billionaire and Brazilian luxury

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By FERNANDO NOGUEIRA DA COSTA*

The recent expansion of the market for superfluous products for exhibitionism social status is directly linked to a few people with high purchasing power

Casually, this weekend, I watched the last season of the series The Crown, nominated by the United States Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the 75th edition of Primetime Emmy Awards, the top award in the American television industry and streaming. I also watched it on Netflix The billionaire, the butler and her boyfriend, a three-episode documentary miniseries about how a conflict between one of the richest women in the world and her daughter turned into a national scandal in France. The tour through the little world of billionaires was crowned by reading the exclusive study of bain, made at the request of the newspaper Economic value (08/12/23) and the magazine Spindrift, about the luxury market in Brazil.

Let's start at the beginning: the end of the first part of the last season of The Crown. The representation of historical events in the series comes close to the public's collective memory, but it is not a documentary, despite Peter Morgan's excellent script.

It leads us to a question: why is the constitutionalist monarchy in the United Kingdom preserved? There are a number of historical, cultural and political reasons – and the privileges of the royal family are part of this system.

The history of the monarchy in the United Kingdom goes back centuries. The monarchical tradition is rooted in British culture as an integral part of national identity.

Constitutionalist monarchy, where the monarch's powers are limited by a Constitution and exercised largely by Parliament, has provided political stability over time. The transfer of powers to elected representatives helped avoid abrupt government transitions.

The presence of a symbolic and apolitical figure, such as the monarch, represents the unity of the nation. The monarchy transcends party divisions and represents historical continuity – in addition to being tourist attractions…

The United Kingdom has an unwritten Constitution, based on historical documents, laws, customs and conventions. The monarchy is part of this adaptable Constitution.

Members of the royal family play a mainly ceremonial and representative role. Although formally they have certain powers and responsibilities, in practice, government powers are exercised by Parliament and the Prime Minister.

The monarchy represents institutional continuity. While governments change with elections, it remains a constant institution. The British system is known to evolve gradually over time through consensus, reform and voting, as in Brexit, rather than abrupt revolutions.

In opinion polls, the monarchy receives significant support from the population. Many people see it as a valuable institution for the British nation. It coexists with representative democracy, with those elected to Parliament ruling. The royal family's privileges are maintained largely by tradition and constitutional agreement.

In Europe, countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway and Sweden also have monarchies. In the Middle East, the list includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, among others. In Asia, the best-known example is Japan.

European dynasties are historically associated with royal families with “divine predestination” (sic) to exercise monarchical power in different countries over the centuries. Not all of these dynasties are billionaires compared to families with large personal fortunes accumulated in the private sector.

Dynasties date back to ancestral royal houses, whose succession is based on hereditary criteria. They hold lands, properties and resources associated with royal power, but these assets are generally of a public nature, linked to the administration of the State. The modern role of European royal dynasties is more symbolic and ceremonial rather than the active exercise of political power.

Extremely large private fortunes are concentrated in capitalist business successes. Worse, they seek to copy ceremonial characteristics from traditional dynasties, as shown in another series, Downton Abbey, with the life of one of them and her employees.

Since the Revolution of 1789, France has been a semi-presidential democratic republic, whose government is made up of the Prime Minister, appointed by the President, responsible to Parliament and responsible for forming a ministry. The government, headed by the Prime Minister, must always be supported by the majority of the Chamber, otherwise it will suffer a motion of censure – and fall…

Precisely in this context the documentary miniseries takes place The billionaire, the butler and her boyfriend. It tells the real story of the French scandal surrounding the inheritance of the richest woman in the world. It follows the investigation and media coverage of the Bettencourt Case, a fight between mother and daughter involving a gigantic fortune with shares in a business empire, whose founder was anti-Semitic and a Nazi-fascist sympathizer.

The story revolves around Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the group L'Oreal, with the intention of dividing ½ of the inheritance, if not with her boyfriend, “even with the poor”, and only leaving ½ for her only daughter. The homosexual “boyfriend” carries out continuous emotional extortion and earns around one billion euros. The butler installs spy bugs against him, but ends up proving tax evasion of money sent to “tax havens”, with President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and the treasurer of his electoral campaign (and future minister) covering it up at the expense of its illegal financing in paper money.

A curiosity of the series is to reproduce the conversations actually recorded with actors acting and present statements from the real characters involved in the drama, except for the billionaire and her daughter. The narcissism of those in spectacle society is impressive!

Liliane Bettencourt's fortune was estimated at 30 billion euros, that is, around R$160 billion. To compare with the consumerism of the nouveau riche Brazilians: the entire luxury market in Brazil generated “only” R$74 billion in 2022.

The consultancy research Bain & Company, at the request of the newspaper Economic value and the magazine Spindrift, outlines the current situation and prospects for nine segments: fashion and personal items, real estate, automobiles, health, private aircraft, yachts, art, hotels and fine beverages.

The recent expansion of this market is directly linked to a few people with high purchasing power. In 2022, the study shows, Brazil had 114 thousand people with at least US$ 1 million (around R$ 5 million) in liquid assets, almost double the 64 thousand in 2018. The affluent portion, of individuals with more than US$100 in liquid assets also almost doubled, from 670 to 1,2 million.

This small part of the population in 2022 accumulated wealth equivalent to more than a third of Brazilian GDP, US$717 billion (R$3,5 trillion). In 2018, it had US$360 billion.

In October 2023, the financial volume invested by the 70.580 economic groups per household (157.352 accounts) in the Consulting reached R$1,979 trillion (US$401 billion or 373 billion euros). Growth in the current year was 6,38%. In December 2020, before the resumption of the Selic increase, the financial volume was US$1,625 trillion, that is, the fortune of this segment grew by R$354 billion (or 22%) in almost three years.

To compare, the 132,6 million traditional retail accounts accumulated R$1,871 trillion or R$14.103 per capita and the 15,4 million High Income Retail accounts, R$1,619 trillion or R$105.283 per capita. The average per capita accounts (CPF) of the Consulting reached R$ 12.579.690,39. Only.

Metaphorically, this triple stratification would represent, first, “the descendants of the slaves”, then, “the descendants of those expelled or emigrants from Europe”, finally, at the top are “the heirs of the dynastic colonizers…”. This is ironic, given such social inequality, because there was also professional advancement for a small portion of Brazilians with completed higher education.

The level of education achieved by a country's adult population is a legacy of the investment in education made in past decades. According to PNADC 2022 data, the percentage of people over 65 years of age with completed higher education was 11,1%, while in the 25 to 64 age group it was 20,7%.

The nouveau riche (less than 1%) with the highest net worth in the country are concentrated in São Paulo (half of them), followed by Rio de Janeiro, with 16% of this population, and 7% in Belo Horizonte. The fashion and personal luxury items segment grows in Brazil at an annual rate of 8% to 10%, while worldwide expansion is in the range of 5% to 7%.

Fashion and personal items considers sales from the primary market of clothing (25%), footwear and accessories (26%), jewelry and watches (27%) and beauty products (22%), that is, superfluous products for exhibitionism. social status. In clothing segmentation, a luxury item costs three to five times more compared to the price of “premium”. This, in turn, is already 30 times higher compared to popular retail.

*Fernando Nogueira da Costa He is a full professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Brazil of banks (EDUSP). [https://amzn.to/3r9xVNh]


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