Archive for November, 2012

Losing count of billionaires

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Billionaires are hard to count, apparently.

Here’s one total: “Chinese billionaires, of whom there are ninety-five …”.

And here’s another, based on “a report published on the eve of the 2012 congress by the Hurun Report, the best source of intelligence on China’s rich”: “according to Hurun, there were 271 billionaires in China in 2011”.

This difference—one count being almost triple the other—is striking. It’s all the more striking after one learns that the counts are found 3 pages apart in the same book. The count of 95 is on page 205, and the count of 271 is on page 208, of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Penguin, 2012), by Chrystia Freeland.

If the reason for the discrepancy were the distinction between “Chinese billionaires” and “billionaires in China”, I, at least, would expect the former tally to be greater than the latter, not the reverse, given the large count of Chinese entrepreneurs outside of China.

Freeland doesn’t cite a source for the count of 95, but as of today the English edition of Wikipedia gives that very same count, and it, in turn, cites Forbes, which agrees.

So, what does Freeland make of the discrepancy? She doesn’t seem to address it directly (or even acknowledge it), but does say (on page 205) that “China’s billionaires are among the world’s most discreet”. This, she says, is because “they know that the Chinese regime—still, after all, a one-party communist state—is highly ambivalent about its plutocrats.” She describes a state that occasionally charges, convicts, and imprisons one of them for corruption. The problem for me in that implied analysis is that she contrasts the reclusivity of Chinese billionaires with the ostentation of Russian ones, and yet the Russian state, too, is sometimes punitive toward its economic oligarchs.

My last question is why the professional corps of Penguin copy editors didn’t notice this. Did they forget what they had read 3 pages earlier, just as the author apparently forgot what she had written?

Berkeley senior co-op litigants return to mediation

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants in a lawsuit involving a Berkeley senior housing cooperative reported last week that they had made progress in negotiating a settlement but had agreed to obtain additional help from a San Francisco mediator.

The lawsuit, filed in March by Jonathan Pool, a shareholder in Berkeley Town House Cooperative Corporation, alleges that several of its officials had paid Danville contractor Garry Secrest $224,000 for a bungled waterproofing and exterior construction job performed with no license, no insurance, no building permit, and no signed contract. Pool’s complaint also alleges neglect of seismic risks in the 60-unit 9-story building and numerous procedural violations by the corporation’s directors. The cooperative filed a cross-complaint against Secrest and American Pacific Coatings, claiming they should pay for any damages the court might award.

In a joint statement, Pool’s attorney David H. Schwartz and defendant attorney Fred M. Feller reported that they had been negotiating to finalize a tentative settlement reached during a mediation session in June with retired judge Richard Hodge, but that “some unresolved issues” still prevented agreement. The statement reported that the parties had agreed to see Hodge for additional mediation.

Today Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick postponed the next hearing in the case from 19 November to 31 January “in light of the proposed settlement”.