There’s a line in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which goes, “The rich get richer and the poor get—children”. It’s a variation on the old catchphrase and aphorism often quoted when discussing economic inequality. It could actually also refer to the annual list of billionaires just released by Forbes magazine, where the rich have indeed gotten richer. The names and net worth of the world’s richest people provide some vicarious reading for the less fortunate, but we are in 2014, six years after the global economic crisis first hit, and the number of wealthy just keeps growing. As per the latest ranking, a record 1,645 billionaires made the list this year, with an average net worth of $4.7 billion. That’s up from 1,426 billionaires last year with a net worth of $4.2 billion. The total net worth of this year’s list was $6.4 trillion, up from $5.4 trillion last year. The fantastically rich are getting fantastically richer. What’s with the paradox? Where is all this money and wealth coming from?
The billionaire crop includes the usual suspects: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, most of whom are in information technology, telecom or social media. That would be understandable, but here’s the thing: a majority of the world’s billionaires are in traditional areas of business—real estate, banking, retail, insurance, financial services, fashion, chocolates and candy, cement and sugar, media, liquor, oil, energy, metals and minerals, mining and the auto sector. These were prime areas of business half a century ago, and nothing much seems to have changed, so what impact is the global economic crisis really having and where? It certainly has not put a brake on entrepreneurship. The list shows that 1,080 of the billionaires, or over two-thirds, were self-made, 207 inherited their wealth and 352 inherited a portion, but are still growing it.
Here are some more intriguing facts—the Asia-Pacific region produced 444 billionaires, the youngest billionaire hails from Hong Kong and, for the first time, an African made the ranks of the top 25 wealthiest people in the world. The takeaway? Emerging markets are growing stronger and self-made money rules the top of the financial game. This year, an extra 268 billionaires made the list and four countries—Algeria, Lithuania, Tanzania and Uganda—made their debut. Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman, who made his wealth in cement, flour