China's parliament a billionaires' club
Where in the world of politics would you find the greatest concentration of billionaires?
Looking at the annual Hurun list of China's richest people, a good start may be with the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which opened their annual meetings last week.
The NPC has 86 yuan billionaires, while the CPPCC, the nation's top political advisory body, has 69 billionaires. The richest NPC members have seen their average wealth multiply more than four times over the last eight years while the 1,000 richest folks on the mainland only managed to average a threefold increase. The average fortune of the 155 NPC and CPPCC billionaires is 9.7 billion yuan, compared with the average 6.4 billion yuan of Hurun's list of the 1,000 richest people in China.
The number and wealth of the richest lawmakers are almost certain to be underestimated because the enforcement of disclosure rules ranges from lax to non-existent.
Now you may argue, perhaps, that many of them were asked to join those august bodies after they had already achieved wealth and status. And a few billionaires and their sons are from Hong Kong, where Communist Party membership would hardly guarantee wealth, but rather the opposite before the 1997 handover.
Perhaps. There are 56 billionaires who have served more than one five-year term - on either the NPC or CPPCC; their average wealth increased more than three times. Now their wealth-building may have all to do with their business acumen, but being closely associated with the Communist Party certainly doesn't hurt. The "billionaires" irony in a socialist country is just too rich, even for sarcastic and cynical Karl Marx. Luckily, I learn much of my philosophy of life from the other Marx, that is, Groucho, so I realise the only parties that are worth joining will never have someone like me as a member. It's the way of the world.
Still, like many people who dream about winning a snowballed Mark Six, I fantasise about the fabulous social status, connections and wealth-building opportunities an elite membership can confer. The Communist Party on the mainland seems like a sure ticket. If only I could get in!