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Robert Frank: Wealthy Will Be 'Defensive' In Their Investments In 2012

First Posted: 12/04/11 01:21 PM ET Updated: 12/04/11 01:21 PM ET

The richest people in the world are not set to rescue the economy any time soon, because they are worried about shielding their own wealth in an era of high market volatility and slow economic growth, according to an expert on the wealthy.

Robert Frank, a senior writer at The Wall Street Journal who has written extensively about the wealthy, said on Saturday at the Economist's World in 2012 summit that the wealthy will take few risks with their investments this year, in contrast to what the economy needs.

"They're going to take a very defensive posture," he said, predicting "the age of the anxious elite."

The wealthy also will be "lower profile" in their spending because they will feel "under siege next year, politically, economically and culturally," Frank said.

One billionaire summarized his stance to Frank in the following way, Frank related: "Rather than a return on my assets, I want my assets returned."

The underpinnings of wealth creation have become more tenuous, Frank said. Now the markets allow people to "create this very vast and sudden wealth" but can just as easily bring the nouveau riche to their knees.

Andrew Mason, founder and chief executive of Groupon, whose stock price has plummeted below its recent IPO price, is likely to become the next wealthy person to lose a large amount of money, Frank said.

Frank added that the rich in the United States will become more like the rich in Europe, becoming less ostentatious but also more hereditary.

"The wealthy will have a quieter, more dynastic wealth, whereas in Asia and emerging markets, they will become the new Americas," he said.

Frank predicted that the share of global wealth held by millionaires will grow, surpassing 40 percent of all global wealth in 2012. He also predicted that Asia will surpass the U.S. in the number of millionaires there.

But millionaires around the world will be forced to pay more in taxes because countries with high debt burdens have no other choice, Frank said.

"Every country needs money. There's only one group with money," Frank said. "It's the one percent."

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