Like any good red-blooded American with visions of fleeing to Europe, based on an at least remotely possible election outcome, I was intrigued by a Bloomberg headline that read: How to Stay Rich in Europe: Inherit Money for 700 Years.
The article was about how a larger proportion of European billionaires – remember when millionaire was a big deal? – got their money the old fashioned way: they inherited it. In the US, “only” 29 percent of our billionaires are scionics. In Italy, the figure is 37 percent. In Germany, an astounding 65 percent.
The richest Florentine families today were already at the top of the socioeconomic ladder almost 600 years ago, according to a recent study by the Bank of Italy. And research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that in many European countries, not only wealth and income but even occupations tend to be “sticky,” passed on from generation to generation.
Six-hundred years? Or is it the seven hundred years of the title? What’s a century, I guess, if you’ve got all that money, not to mention your “sticky” occupation behind you?
Six-hundred years back, I’ll venture to say that both my German and Irish antecedents were peasant farmers. This is a pretty safe bet, given that what they were leaving when they came in the 1870’s (the Irish) and the 1920’s (the Germans) were peasant farms.
So I’m just as happy that those occupations didn’t stick.
I’ve only been to one antecedent town, Ballintubber (officially Ballintober) in County Mayo, where my great-grandmother Margaret Joyce hailed from. I saw the restored, 13th century Cistercian Abbey (quite lovely), and a graveyard full of Joyces, but I don’t recall the town. Ballintubber (officially Ballintober), County Mayo, is not to be confused, by the way, with Ballintober (officially Ballintober), County Roscommon, which is where my great-grandfather John Rogers came from. He met Margaret Joyce in Amerikay, and the rest is history.
The other Irish side, the Trainors, were from Ballymascanlon, County Louth. My cousin Barbara breezed through years ago. It’s one of those “blink you’re out” villages, but they do have a hotel, and it’s on my bucket list.
My more recently arriving family, the Wolfs of Neue Banat - a German settlement in the Austro-Hungarian empire that, after WWI, became part of Romania, hit our shores in the 1920’s – came through Ellis Island with all those other tired, poor, and huddled masses. I can only imagine what this little outpost looks like today (Neue Banat, not Ellis Island; I know what that outpost looks like), between WWII and all those decades under the Ceaușescu fun fest. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get there. (Romania is not on anyone’s bucket list, unless they’re a Dracula fan.) But my Aunt Mary did get there as a kid, when my Grandmother Wolf made a reverse pilgrimage to see her family in 1937, before all hell broke loose. In keeping with family dynamics, my mother – the oldest child, the drudge – had to stay home and tend to my grandfather. Grandma took Mary and my Uncle Jack.
Thanks to my cousin Ellen’s salvaging some family pictures of that excursion, I do know what Neue Banat looked like in the 1930’s. You can find them on her wonderful blog post, European Vacation: 1937, on her wonderful blog, Hello, Lamppost.
No billionaires there, I can tell you that.
Anyway, back to the Bloomberg Euro-billionaire story, the piece highlights two fellows, Lamberto Frescobaldi, of the wine- (and money-) making Frescobaldis of Florrence, and Count Alexander Fugger-Babenhausen of Germany.
I guess another part of being rich is not just the money, it’s the names. Jacob Wolf. Magdalena Folker. Mary Trainor. Charles Rogers. My grandparents. Not a Lamberto or Fugger-Babenhausen in the bunch.
Although I will say that, if my German family had been wealthy, I’d like to think that they would have been Fuggers. In the fifteen-hundreds, the ur uber-rich Fugger, Jacob, founded the Fuggerei, and affordable housing complex in Augsburg, Germany.
The Fuggerei’s 140 apartments have survived innumerable wars and partial destruction during World War II. While they have been renovated, they still follow the original floor plans and feature some unique Renaissance decor, such as a lever-activated door-opening mechanism that in the past let tenants allow visitors in without leaving the apartment’s only heated room.
Count Fugger-Babenhausen still keeps the Fuggerei up. Good for him.
Sometimes it pays to be rich, in more ways than one.
Meanwhile – and alas – it’s too late for me to become a rich European. Should have thought of that six (or is it seven?) hundred years back.