The phenomenon of wealth in Russia and the size of capital have become one of the most widely discussed subjects. Forbes has added fuel to the flames of public interest by publishing its list of the 100 richest citizens of Russia whose combined capital is assessed at almost 25% of the nation's GDP.
The estimates are quite realistic. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade provides similar figures: the incomes of the 10% of the richest Russians are 15 times larger than the incomes of the 10% of the poorest section, and gap is increasing because the rich are becoming richer. The incomes of the poor are growing but are still not high enough to buy property or pay for private education or health care.
The main source of income is the raw material business, which provides an exhaustive picture of the Russian economy. The country is still living mostly by exporting its mineral wealth (above all oil), though other economic branches are developing rather quickly.
The richest people of the country account for approximately 1.5% of the population: roughly 700 families of three, which adds up to about 2 million. With all types of property taken into account, they are each worth at least $1 million.
This new elite is not a negative phenomenon. Moreover, it is a promising factor strategically. In the past few years, the new elite has come to the fore and the current millionaires and billionaires are young and talented. They are highly competitive and energetic; they run effective businesses and want to develop the Russian economy and create adequately paid jobs. They pay taxes on time. This means that the new millionaires can eventually facilitate the state's correct social policy and better living standards for their compatriots.
They are quite unlike those who took part in initial privatisation or stole state property under the cover of small businesses in the early 1990s. The current millionaires are highly educated people aged between 40 and 45. They have accumulated certain human capital from their forefathers (the fathers of more than 60% of them had a university education) and work to improve their educational standards. In the past three years, only 10% of them did not receive another degree or diploma, while the rest made great efforts to do so and in many ways (four or five).
In other words, this fundamentally new generation of millionaires frequently borders on the intellectual elite of the country. All of them are decision-making people: 70-85% influence decision-making at the level of their business, while 15-25%, at the level of business units.
The group of affluent people includes chief accountants of major holdings because they are paid handsomely: tens of thousands of dollars a month plus dividends from the shares of their business. On the other hand, the list also includes self-employed people - notaries and lawyers who represent big businessmen and senior officials.
About two-thirds of the current millionaires live in Moscow and St Petersburg, though most of them come from the provinces. Ten percent were born in villages but many of them graduated from universities and colleges in the capital, where they established the necessary connections.
Family is more important to the rich than to any other social section. They cite the family and close friends as one of their main values. The majority of rich Russians say their families (most of them have one child) are happy.
Contrary to widespread belief, the richest people are not always men. In 10% of cases, the wealth of the family depends on women, 5% of whom are single mothers.
Apart from the family, the rich Russians value their freedom. They do not understand it in the same way as Westerners - as the possibility to use all their available rights, but as the ability "to be one's own master." On the other hand, the modern rich are pro-Western. Unlike the majority of the Russian population, who think that Russia should proceed by its own, different way, the Russian millionaires and billionaires see the future of the country as being in close integration with the West. This is their interpretation of patriotism - and there are a large number of patriots among them.
Only about 40% of rich Russians have not clashed with crime in the past few years. Despite fail-safe security measures, including bodyguards, many of them fell victim to thieves, burglars and blackmailers or had to make deals with criminals. Being rich is still not safe in Russia, but it is as prestigious as it is in the West.
The studies we have been conducting since 1992 show that Russians have a generally tolerant attitude to the rich. Only about 30% were intolerant of the rich but over 75% of the respondents wanted to be wealthy and not merely middle-class.
The state should pursue an effective socio-economic policy that would encourage, and not force, Russia's richest people to pay taxes and develop a socially responsible business. Moreover, they should link the future of their business with Russia, and not with the West. This policy would benefit everyone, because the current economic elite of Russia is not just made up of the country's richest people. They are an invaluable human resource that can benefit the people and contribute to the economic prosperity of the country.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the editorial board's opinion.