pound sign

A question came to me the other day that made me ponder, as it does whilst I listen to the soothing tunes of ClassicFM. I was pondering how many billionaires are there in the world? I don’t know why I was thinking that but it came to me and so I asked the internet if it knew the answer. Perhaps it was talk of the Bilderberg group or the G8 summit but thankfully enough the answer was there. Now to me a billion dollars seems like a lot so I was thinking that there could only be a hundred or so at most. Forbes publish a list every year and they guestimate that there are some 1,426 billionaires in the world! OK there are some 7 billion people in the world so as a percentage that is pretty small but together as a group they have a combined wealth of $5.4trillion. London boasts 50 odd billionaires and some 4,000 millionaires of ultra-high net worth (more than $30m knocking around).

Having found the number of billionaires, I wanted to see if the internet knew how many millionaires there are in the world. Now a millionaire can be slightly more difficult to define depending on whether you include investable assets or not (take out house prices). Wiki cites the World Health Report whichs puts a figure of 11m millionaires in the world, only 0.16% of the global population yet controlling assets of some $37.2 trillion USD. The most were in America. I was delighted to note that the UK is 5th on the list with over 400,000 millionaires (easily beating the French into 6th, with more of them probably heading our way!). I’m proud of that, though god knows why as I’m not one of them (yet). Still for a ‘small’ country in a depression that is pretty good. It is intriguing to note that China is 4th with some 550,000. This from a country which I still believe is technically a communist state! I am interested to know whether we will ever see a march of these millionaires on our TV screens? They must have needs as well which politicians surely must meet. Having witnessed millions march against war and tens of thousands against bans on fox hunting, I look forward to their protest.
Perhaps they are too busy working as 23% got there through hard graft, 47% through owning a business and only 16% through inheritance. Also the average age is 61 so perhaps they are watching Countdown?

It does beg a question though, why do we allow them to be so rich? In the past the masses have fought revolutions and killed to dispel their masters who had far less wealth than some of these people. Perhaps we don’t feel that they have power over us as tyrants did in the past, but surely they must have. No one can have that much wealth and no power? And by definition it is us over whom they have that power. Have our brains become so numbed by technology that we no longer care about this? Are we OK with the world getting screwed and us picking up the pieces, that we’re more interested in things that we can control, like X-Factor? I can understand how in our ‘affluent’ West, where few really ever wonder where their next meal is coming from, that we can shrug it off. But I have seen harrowing poverty in Asia. There are so few who have such wealth and so many who have so little. Surely some could organise en masse and take their money?

Should I hate rich people? I don’t hate the poor. Are there the deserving and undeserving rich, in much the same way we label the poorest in our communities? Few could argue against Bill Gates deserving his wealth. He invented a product that we all wanted and bought, whilst also giving much of his money to fighting malaria. Yet some of those on the list have more questionable histories, certainly some from the former Soviet Union.

In many ways becoming super-rich seems almost as impenetrable as joining the ruling classes. But I don’t want to be super-rich, I don’t even want to be rich. I want to be comfortable and successful.

I see the riots on the streets of Brazil, a country that by most indicators is moving forwards. This is not some backward dictatorship (or so we think) yet there are still violent clashes taking place fuelled by such anger, yet no one seems entirely sure why. Brazil is 11th on the list with 160,000 millionaires. So is it the growing inequality, that growth brings, at the root of these troubles? Are we happy that there are rich people, so long as they are not too rich for our tastes?

CNBC suggests that the wealthiest 1% of the global population controls 39% of the world’s total wealth. That wealth is expected to grow by nearly 10% a year over the next five years if stock markets continue to climb.

Now I am no Marxist but I follow the James line that ‘if I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor’. I am forever grateful that whether through fate, intelligent design or just pure luck I was born in a country that at least had a basic value of life and not in some slum where death is a part of everyday life. Wealth and poverty are all relative, so hence I get bombarded by sellers and others when I go to some foreign parts, yet can barely scrape enough change together for a pint back home.

In times gone by people used to dream of a world without money, without deprivation. We know that poverty kills yet now we want to gorge ourselves on wealth. Will there come a time when the grossly wealthy will be judged by the masses who look up at them from their homes on the street?

by: Craig Cunningham