The Richest of the Rich

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
March 4 2013 9:00 AM

How Rich Are the Top 1 Percent of Billionaires?

161684877
Carlos Slim (right) and Bill Gates in Febrauary

Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Forbes is out with its latest list and ranking of billionaires, and it's full, as usual, of fascinating information. They count 1,426 billionaires who together control an aggregate $5.4 trillion of wealth. Since I'm interested in the dynamics of inequality, I thought it might be interesting to specifically look at the top 1 percent of billionaires—the 14 richest people on the planet—and see how they stack up.

The answer is that the hyper elite top 1 percent of billionaires control about $700 billion in wealth—13 percent of the total billionaire haul.

As always, I think the most interesting thing about the list is how it reminds us of the level of arbitrariness that exists around the final assignments of wealth in a market economy. Google is a slightly more valuable company than Microsoft and a vastly more valuable company than Oracle, but Larry Page and Sergei Brin combine for about Larry Ellison's level of wealth, and they're substantially poorer than Bill Gates. And sometimes the results are just embarrassing. The world's richest man, Carlos Slim, has obviously made some shrewd deals and runs a good business. But everyone knows it's political connections and poor regulatory policy in Mexico that put him in the game. Angola's first billionaire, Isabel dos Santos, is described as "the oldest daughter of Angola's longtime president" and like Slim became the richest woman in Africa largely on the back of a large stake in her native country's main telecommunications network.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.