Why no superbillionaires in Japan or Korea?

In the Baker’s Dozen thread, we were recently listing non-American billionaires. And I noticed something - none of the people being named were from Japan or South Korea. I looked on Forbes list for the 100 richest people in the world - and none of them are Japanese or Korean. (The wealthiest Korean is Lee Kun-Hee at #105 with $8.6 billion. The wealthiest Japanese is Masayoshi Son at #113 with $8.1 billion.)

This strikes me as strange. Japan and South Korea are obviously very properous countries with capitalist private-sector economies. I would have assumed some individuals would be in at least the ten billion dollar range.

Is there something unusual about the economies of these two countries that prevents individuals from accumulating that level of wealth?

Billionaires often don’t really have wealth: they have inflated stock evaluations.

The Japanese stock market has been flat for almost 20 years.

Also, both economies tend to be dominated by gigantic superconglomerates that have fingers in multiple industries, which means that a run-up in a single one doesn’t move the dial too much, and means that ownership is spread across large numbers of interrelated interests rather than a few entrepreneurs.

Just a WAG, but I always look to structural explanations whenever possible.

Going strictly from memory … but I seem to remember that in the mid-1990s, there were a few Japanese billionaires on the Forbes’ Top 100 list.

There’s a probably a bunch of mini-factors that happened to push these folks out of the top 100. One such factor is that WalMart founder Sam Walton (once #1 in the world IIRC) split his fortune among relative, four of whom are on Forbes’ current list.

Another factor may be the number of Russian billionaires, who weren’t on the list 15 or so years ago (as far as I know). There’s also a Czech and a Ukrainian on the current list. I did a quick count of 16-17 billionaires from the former Eastern Bloc. There are also several from Germany, and some of them could be from the former East Germany.

I also noticed that the Mars family fortune (Mars candy among many other ventures) has been split a few ways. Presumably, that took the Mars fortune from one name to three on this list.

One more thing: India has seven names on the 2011 list. Brazil has three. I’d bet they had fewer 15-20 years ago.

Going by what Exapno posted … Japan may simply be getting passed up by new kids on the financial block like India and Brazil. And China. China’s top billionaire, Robin Li, is now on the list at #95.

Several reasons. One is that Japan is in a recession now and hasn’t been doing well for 20 years.

Another is that back in the 80s, the price of land more than tripled (IIRC), the stock market doubled and there many more billionaires in Japan, including what was once the richest man in the world.

Perhaps the level of inequality of incomes in a more general way in the countries is relevant. From Wikipedia:
Ratio of average income of richest 10% to poorest 10%
Japan: 4.5
South Korea: 7.8
USA: 15.9

I don’t think the state of the national economy is the key issue. There are billionaires in the top 100 from Chile, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, the Ukraine - none of which has a national economy comparable to Japan.

I think Exapno raised a good point about different styles of ownership. In some countries wealth may get accumulated in the hands of an individual (probably more so in a country with recent economic growth). But wealth in Japan and South Korea may be owned more by consortia.

There’s also only one in the top 100 (at #57) from the UK.

I remember reading the biography of the guy that started Sony, building it up from a garage operation that made recording tape. His explanation was this: the Japanese business model was that banks financed corporations in return for a share in the company. As a result, someone like the president of the corporation was rich, but not super rich - he said he could afford to send his kids to private school in Switzerland for example, but could not buy a personal jet or buy his wife a million-dollar ring on a whim. Of course, this was before the current age of excessively over-compensated CEO’s, too; and Japan does not have the “rock star” mentality, the whole production system is a team effort and everyone gets a fair share, nobody is a “shining star” singled out above others.

“Old money” in Japan was linked with the WWII government and had most of their wealth confiscated as punishment. Korea, of course, was a third world puppet of Japan until WWII, and then pretty much flattened from one end to the other. SO there was not a lot of “old money” there either

Whether Korea has the same deferential social attitude, I don’t know. It could be that the corporations, similarl to Japan’s MITI, are creatures of government direction to develop economic sectors, rather than winners of the competitive rat race in the marketplace. So just like Japan, they are not owned by one lucky and/or talented shareholder but by the banks and other groups that financed the expansion.

I heard recently - no cites, it was on TV - that there’s a concentration of billionaires in Switzerland and that the wealthiest of them has his residence here. He is Chilian I think.

I’m curious as to why you would consider the sate of the national economy to not be a key issue.

The person I linked to was the richest man in the world, but his fortune tanked along with many others when the Japanese economy went into a recession and the value of his real estate and stock plunged.

You did say “the” and not “a” but I think that it’s impossible to have any one reason be the key.

Please note Nos. 113 and 122, both of which are billionaires who formed their own highly successful companies. There are also a number of people lower on the racking who are enterprenuers.

Even with Japan’s current economic problems, it is still a much wealthier country than other countries which do have multibillionaires. It’s not like Mexico, for example, is now a wealthier country than Japan.

The US joins various developing economies in ‘rewarding’ the rich at the expense of the poor. Of the top 100 on that list, in order of country:

USA 32
Russia 15
Germany 8
India 7
HK/China 5
France 4
Brazil 3
Sweden 3
Chile 3
Saudi 2
Italy 2
Malaysia 2

all others are 1 each.

Interestingly, Forbes doesn’t share the same opinion as you do.

Link fixed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshiaki_Tsutsumi

My point is that the number of multibillionaires in a country is not related to the overall national economy.

Here’s the twenty countries with the largest GDP’s (in millions of dollars)

United States - 14,657,800
China - 5,878,257
Japan - 5,458,872
Germany - 3,315,643
France - 2,582,527
United Kingdom - 2,247,455
Brazil - 2,090,314
Italy - 2,055,114
Canada - 1,574,051
India - 1,537,966
Russia - 1,465,079
Spain - 1,409,946
Australia - 1,235,539
Mexico - 1,039,121
South Korea - 1,007,084
Netherlands - 783,293
Turkey - 741,853
Indonesia - 706,735
Switzerland - 523,772
Poland - 468,539

Chile (with a GDP of 203,323 million) and Malaysia (with a GDP of 237,959 million) both have more multibillionaires than Japan does, despite the fact that Japan’s economy if over twenty-five times larger than theirs.

My point is not about the “size” of the economy but the “state” of it, e.g., if it is in a recession, stagnant, growing, etc.

As per my link above, there were seven multibillionaires who got knocked of Forbes list, and the whole economy didn’t change that much.

There is no simple one-to-one relationship between the size of the economy and the number of super rich.

But from your link, Germany and France are closer to Japan’s ratio then the US’s, and yet the have multiple members on the top 100s list.

I think Expano more or less had the answer. New sectors of the Japanese economy are served by old companies expanding, while in most other western countries, new companies tend to be created to serve new nitches.

True, although if you look at all the billionaires on the list rather than the top 100, they have fewer billionaires than you would expect given their GDP. But I know this would be changing the topic somewhat.