Which has more net wealth, a Country or a Family?

Since conspiracy theorists are obsessed with international bankers, I thought to ask the question – how influential can a rich banking family really be next to countries? I mean, the country must have a lot more value than the family, even if its value isn’t liquid (it’s bound up in cars and houses and roads, instead of in Gold and Bonds and Stocks etc..).

So I checked. It’s fairly easy to get numbers on the net worth of states – it shows right up on Google. According to the Vancouver Sun, Stats can measured Canada’s total net worth (including the subtraction of foreign debts) at 5.7 trillion.

It’s impossible to find out what the net worth of rich international banking families is, however. I’ve seen estimates for the Rothschilds up to 700 trillion, but there are serious problems with this. One is the lack of credibility of the research. But another is, how can someone be said to have more money than an economy? What can you use the money to buy? At a certain point, you are not a “price taker” as it comes to spending – you yourself influence princes by spending. The hand is no longer invisible, it’s just your hand.

Perhaps rather than asking how much money international bankers have, we should ask how much money would they need to have in order to have more influence on world economic policy than statesmen? Well, presumably they’d have to have enough that they could influence various economies indirectly through their actions. Isn’t it recognized that certain international bankers do this with respect to smaller nations, isn’t that mainstream? Perhaps someone will remember the reference for me.

Anyway, my desire is to perhaps start a bit of a discussion about this issue. Or, to come up with good reasons why no discussion is needed.

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2 thoughts on “Which has more net wealth, a Country or a Family?

  1. I doubt many conspiracy theorists think that bankers secretly run the world while politicians are innocent and/or ignorant. I think the idea is usually that the planet is controlled by a self-interested global elite.

    There is a fair amount of truth to the idea. Just look at the ease with which top politicians move back and forth between the public and private sectors.

  2. I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, so I don’t think any discussion of the illuminati secretly controlling the world or staging 9-11 is required or desirable. However, I suspect you are already aware of where you could go if you are determined to have conversations along that vein.

    I will try to respond to the question, in part by suggesting other relevant questions. The short answer is that it depends on the state and on the family. States that are impoverished to the point of defaulting on their debts aren’t like to have any net worth as their assets have either already been privatized, or just don’t cover the loans. So, compared to those countries an average family could have a higher net worth. Wealth is a trickery proposition, because it is subjective to some degree. Your supposition seems to confuse the value certain things have for the citizens with the measure of net worth, which is what your data was directed towards, assets minus liabilities which assumes value is market value. The problem is that a whole host of socially valuable institutions are intangible when considering that value of worth, so we must not confuse the type of value we mean when attempting to compare this economic measure. Any sort of consideration of “wealth” beyond the shallow interpretation as “worth” would require some sort of explanation of what you consider wealth to be. You could turn to the GPI (genuine progress indicator) as a somewhat established measure for assessing lifestyle, but that only compares countries.

    I would suggest other measures are more productive and in some respects more interesting. Virtual transactions in computer games surpass market transactions in some countries. The fact that more transactions happen in World of Warcraft than in small countries is anecdotally interesting because it speaks to real/virtual distinctions, how computer games are developing, our priorities, our leisure activities, etc.

    Another two interesting measures might be revenues and net profits. Wal-Mart handles more money (total amount exchanged rather than a measure of how many exchanges occur) and makes more actual profit than Nepal. This begins to suggest an answer because each of the Walton children not only have considerable net worth, but are growing it faster, and have more effect on the global economy, than some countries.

    I would agree with your proposition – the fact that some individuals can have considerable economic effects either through magnitude, political lobby, or both, is mainstream. The effects and structure of capital and ruminations on public influence are not what conspiracy theories are about; those topics only appear superficially, shadow governments and world domination is really what they are interested in hyping.

    Directed towards your question about the degree of control banking families can have, it varies with time. I’ve already expanded the idea to include political lobbies. We could also consider market failures, to consider the Rockerfeller case. But limited directly to finance, some families have exerted considerable influence in the past because credit wasn’t as available and capital wasn’t fluid. I’ll loan you The Cash Nexus sometime, because it has good examples of certain families being the main lenders to certain states. Since the system of public debt was only beginning to develop, failure to convince a small group of individuals to make a loan could mean losing a war or toppling a monarch. So I think it is important to assess what dimension you want to consider and that you should also remember that some of the control was a product of the institutional arrangement of a particular time. It’s hard to see select families as having that type of control today because of how far credit has developed (the state will just borrow from another state, or print more currency, and the general public is in the practice of participating in the market and/or loaning the state money), but there were other times when families had tremendous influence because they enjoyed a privileged (often politically induced) place in the market.

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