The Garrulous Jay – Billionaires

Publish date


On Tuesday this week Forbes released its 38th Annual World’s Billionaires List. It provides a fascinating insight into the planet’s mega-rich whilst also giving pause for thought.

The media made much of the elevation of American chanteuse Taylor Swift to this elite group but, with an estimated fortune of $1.1 billion, she is a minnow in the world of Big Wealth.

To make it into the Top 20 you need to have over $75 billion to your name, so Jensen Huang who is the CEO of much talked-about AI chipmaker, Nvidia, now just makes the cut.

It is perhaps no surprise that technology dominates the upper echelons of the list, reflecting the principal global economic driver of the last forty years. Familiar names such as Zuckerberg ($177 billion), Ellison ($141 billion), Gates ($128 billion), Page ($114 billion) and Brin ($110 billion) all feature: men whose fortunes are derived from Facebook, Oracle, Microsoft and Google respectively.

But equally telling is that those that have made money out of the way we spend our money also feature prominently. L’Oreal owners, the Bettencourt family, rank 15th with $99.5 billion, and Zara owner, Amancio Ortega ($103 billion) is 13th.

But top of the whole tree is Bernard Arnault & family with an estimated net worth of $233 billion. Monsieur Arnault presides over luxury goods group LVMH, which stands for Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey: you get the picture.

In total Forbes estimates there are now nearly 2,800 billionaires across the world, with a total net worth of over $14 trillion. This is a staggering amount of bonce to be funnelled into so few pockets. Consider for a moment that $1 trillion looks like this: $1,000,000,000,000.

By way of context the world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, looks after a total of $10 trillion across all its clients.

I confess that this leaves me with a slightly queasy feeling.

On the one hand, much of this wealth has been created by a combination of entrepreneurial flare, incredible business acumen and a lot of very hard work. In many cases this has then cascaded down the generations. The children of Walmart founder Sam Walton, for example, feature in 18th, 19th and 21st places on the list.

Without these exemplars of people building brilliant businesses and enjoying the fruits of their labours, it can be argued there is little incentive for others to aspire to do the same. The capitalist economic model therefore depends upon their success.

At the same time, however, it also calls to mind a question I have posed before: how much is ‘enough’? It is an impossible question to answer, and even if one could it would beg a further question: so what next? There is no possibility of individual wealth being taxed globally.

Perhaps we can only hope, therefore, that the majority of the current list sign up to The Giving Pledge, and volunteer to give most if their wealth away in their lifetimes or after they die.