Changes in technology will create a massive underclass and growing inequality that could spark "envy and hatred" of the wealthy, the billionaire chairman of luxury giant Compagnie Financiere Richemont warned this week.
In a speech Monday at the Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit in Monaco, Johann Rupert said the most important issue for the luxury industry and economies globally is the structural unemployment caused by robots, artificial intelligence and the new machine age.
He predicted that inequality will accelerate in the coming years due to the growth in structural unemployment coupled with a "new abundance" for the global winners, he said. That will cause "envy, hatred and social warfare" against the winners in the new economy.
"We can't have the point 1 percent of the point 1 percent taking all the spoils," he said. "Now folks those are our clients. But it's unfair and it's not sustainable."
"I don't know what new social pact we'll have," he said. "But we'd better find one. Otherwise our clients will be targets. They'll be hated, despised."
Rupert isn't the first billionaire to warn of the consequences of the growing wealth gap. Billionaires Paul Tudor Jones, Warren Buffett, Jeff Greene and Stan Druckenmiller have all warned of a top-heavy economy where a small elite is reaping most of the income and wealth gains. Yet Rupert's comments—from a luxury chief speaking to other retailers to the rich in Monaco—suggest that inequality is becoming a concern even to those who have benefited from the spending of the wealthy.
"We are destroying the middle class," he said. "It will affect us, and it's unfair."