The annual Forbes rich list is in. It confirms what a number of people have been saying for the past 12 months: the pandemic has been very good for the super-wealthy. The richest people in the world have further accumulated staggering amounts of wealth across the planet over the past 12 months.
At the same time, the World Bank has estimated that the pandemic is set to plunge a further 150 million people into extreme poverty as a result of the mass economic disruption caused.
The number of billionaires across the world on Forbes’ 35th financial ranking jumped by 660, with 493 of them being new entries. That’s a 30% increase on last year, meaning that the world’s billionaires gained around $8 trillion net worth, bringing the total to $13.1 trillion. Forbes calculates net worth by using stock prices and exchange rates from March 5.
It’s a eye-watering amount of money, the type of concentration of wealth that has not been seen since the 1920s.
Who’s on the List?
Familiar faces like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates all appear in the top 10. A notable new addition this year is Kim Kardashian, whose wealth increased by $220 million in the past six months. Her sister, Kylie Jenner, was removed from the rich list after it was discovered that she had inflated her sales figures.
Bezos, as one of the largest shareholders of Amazon, benefited hugely from the massive increase in the share price of the company he founded. With shops closed in the US and around the world, Amazon is reported to have secured 42% for the e-commerce trade in the US. This grew their revenue by 38% over the year, leading to a share price increase of 60%.
Elon Musk made a stunning jump in net worth of $126 billion over the past 12 months, taking his net worth to $151 billion. Those stats are based on the March 5 stock price, and Musk has increased his net worth by a further $14.7 billion in the past month alone. Musk’s companies Space X and Tesla have both performed extremely well in the last year and with Musk owning large stakes in both of them, he has reaped the rewards.
Also on the list is Whitney Wolfe Herd, the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at the age of just 31. She is the co-founder of the dating app Bumble. The world’s youngest self-made male billionaire is Guillaume Pousaz, founder of the payment company checkout.com.
Here in Australia, the trends are much the same. Our richest person, the mining magnate Gina Rinehart, increased her wealth by $10.5 billion in the past year, giving her a total of $26.6 billion. Andrew Forest, Mike Cannon-Brookes, and Scott Farquhar saw a jump in combined wealth of around $23.7 billion.
Donald Trump, America’s first billionaire president, saw his position on the rich list plummet by almost 300 places. He has lost millions in his luxury resorts over the past few years, losing a billion dollars between 2019 and 2020. He did however see his wealth increase by $300,000 over the past 12 months, to a total of $2.4 billion.
Eat the Rich?
Social media commentary on the list is rife with the kinds of concerns and pointed rebuttals you might expect at seeing this obscene increase in wealth while the average person continues to struggle through the economic carnage of COVID.
In The Washington Post, University of California Berkeley economist, Gabriel Zucman, was quoted as saying that the vast increase in wealth of the world’s top earners is “dangerous”.
“In the United States, the top 400 wealthiest Americans now own the equivalent 18% of GDP in wealth, twice as much as in 2010 (9% of GDP),” he said.
“The pandemic has reinforced this trend, with a boom in top-end wealth despite the decline in economic activity.
“This trend is unlikely to be sustainable: with growing wealth concentration comes a growing concentration of economic and political power in a few hands — a dangerous evolution that governments would be wise to address.”
Not since the age of kings and empire has the world seen such vast inequality. The continued rise of such concentrations of money has been shown repeatedly to be damaging for democracy and society as a whole.
While US President Joe Biden is seeking to redress some of this in America by imposing an increase in the corporate rate of tax, amongst other tax increases for the super-wealthy, there are no such plans at home.
All figures above are in USD.