New young faces join the billionaires’ club

Cash to splash: Three of the world’s youngest billionaires.

Can we learn anything useful from the latest list of billionaires? It now runs to thousands of people, one of them still a teenager – but the editor who oversees it is worried.

At two, Austin Russell memorised the periodic table. At 13, he patented his first invention. Last December, aged 25, he became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

There are no surprises at the top of the annual Forbes list of billionaires: Jeff Bezos is number one, with a fortune of $177bn.

It shows that, while so many have been left poorer by the pandemic, the world’s richest prospered: an amazing 86% are richer than a year ago.

There are now 2,755 billionaires – 660 more than on the last Forbes list.

There are 10 under the age of 30 – but only four made their fortunes.

The youngest self-made female billionaire is 31-year-old Whitney Wolfe Herd, who created the dating app, Bumble.

The number of women on the list is 328. On average they are richer than the men.

Forty are newly billionaires thanks to the pandemic. Li Jianquan, whose company makes protective equipment, has a $6.8bn fortune. Stéphane Bancel, the head of the vaccine manufacturer Moderna, is worth $4.3bn.

According to the editor, Randall Lane: “These figures will engender endless amounts of consternation… There’s no getting around a collective $5trn wealth surge during a pandemic… Yawning economic disparity poses arguably the greatest threat to modern social order.”

Can we learn anything useful from the latest list of billionaires?

Lessons of lucre

No. These people are so different from us that they might as well come from another planet. Many of them have inherited wealth, so their experiences are completely irrelevant to anyone who has not been handed a fortune.

Yes. All the top 10 billionaires made their own fortunes, six in technology – it is possible to join them with drive. But the lesson is that the gulf between the richest and poorest is growing – and as Randall Lane warns, that is not a good thing.

You Decide

  1. Do we have a right to criticise what other people choose to spend their money on?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you have $1bn to divide between 10 good causes. Make a chart showing how much you would give to each of them.

Some People Say...

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

Bill Gates (1955 – ), American businessman and philanthropist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that while the US has the largest number of billionaires, a supposedly Communist country – China – is catching up fast, with 698 to America’s 724. There are already more billionaires in Beijing than in New York. China’s 400 richest people have seen their total wealth increase by 64% over the last year, to $2.11trn. Of the 493 new billionaires, 210 are from China and Hong Kong.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around how far the rest of society benefits from this wealth. President Trump cut US taxes, arguing that this would lead companies to hire more people and pay higher wages. But a recent report by the London School of Economics concluded that tax cuts for the rich failed to boost employment and economic growth. Some billionaires, such as Bill Gates, have given away a large proportion of their wealth, but Elon Musk has given just 0.2% to his own charitable foundation.

Word Watch

Periodic table
A list of the chemical elements arranged according to their atomic number.
Forbes list
The American business magazine bases the list on estimates of people’s wealth. But it may be that some of the world’s richest do not appear on it because they are so skilled at hiding their money. President Putin is thought to be among them.
Billionaires
A billion dollars is $1,000,000,000 – which is why billionaires are sometimes referred to as “the three-comma club”.
Jeff Bezos
This is the fourth time in a row that he has been top of the list. His company, Amazon, has done particularly well during the pandemic, with its value rising by 70%.
Consternation
A feeling of anxiety, dismay or slight anger.

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