How wealthy are the world’s eight wealthiest people?

To find out the total wealth of the top 8 richest people in the world (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and six other people), we can certainly look up publicly available information on the Internet or from other sources. According to one tabulation based on data from Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016, the total net worth of these 8 richest men (they are all men) in 2016 is $426.2 billion. Of course, this is a big number. What is a good way to put this number into a proper context? For further meaning of this number, a comparison will be helpful. It turns out that according to the same tabulation, the total wealth of the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half of the current world population is $409 billion. This is a stunning contrast and is a vivid demonstration of the wide gulf between the richest and poorest people in the world.

There is no need to use chart and graph to enhance the demonstration. Just the fact 8 individuals own more wealth than the combined wealth of the people in the bottom half of the world’s economy is enough to convince anyone of the disparity between the have and the have not. I came across this report recently in an article from npr.org. It discussed a recent report released by Oxfam International on global wealth inequity. Here’s the press release by Oxfam on this report. Here’s the actual report by Oxfam.

Oxfam International is a confederation of 19 organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries to combat poverty.

The top 8 richest people are, in the of net worth:

  1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion).
  2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion).
  3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion).
  4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion).
  5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion).
  6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion).
  7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion).
  8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion).

The number of the richest people with total wealth equal to the poorer half of the world works like a metric to measure wealth inequality. So it is in some sense a measure of wealth gap. It is not clear if this measure of wealth gap is used by anyone other than Oxfam. But it sure is an effective metric. It gives a vivid demonstration of the wealth disparity between the richest and the poorest.

In 2016, “the number of richest people = half of world” metric is 8 as discussed above. In past years, the number was higher. For example, in 2015, the number was 62. Going back further the number got progressively larger.

    \displaystyle \begin{array}{rrr} \text{Year} & \text{ } & \text{Number of Richest People}    \\ \text{ } & \text{ } & \text{ }    \\ 2010 & \text{ } & 388  \\ 2011 & \text{ } & 177  \\ 2012 & \text{ } & 159  \\ 2013 & \text{ } & 92  \\ 2014 & \text{ } & 80  \\ 2015 & \text{ } & 62  \\ 2016 & \text{ } & 8   \end{array}

The above table is found in the Oxfam press release in 2016 (for the 2015 data). Even in 2010, the contrast with 388 richest people equal half the world is already a clear and lopsided contrast. The trends exhibited in the table show that the wealth gap keeps getting wider.

In addition to the 8 richest people equal half the world, the same report also shows that the 1,180 people in the 2016 Forbes list of the world’s richest people own as much wealth as a full 70% of the rest of the world.

The average wealth of the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half is $113.6 (=409 / 3.6). On the other hand, the average wealth of the top 8 men is $53.275 billion (= 426.2 / 8). This is again a contrast as skewed as the one mentioned at the beginning (basically 50 billion dollars versus 100 hundred dollars). It will be interesting to know the median wealth of the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half of the world economy. It is likely that the wealth data in the poorer half is skewed as well, meaning that most people have very little (say subsisting on $2 a day) while the top part in the group have wealth in the hundreds or thousands.

Statistics is comparative. There are other comparisons that can be made. For example, how does the total wealth of $426 billion stack up against the GDPs of countries of the world. Of course, we cannot expect the total wealth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and 6 others men to equal the GDP of a large economy like the United States. The GDP of the United States is over $18 trillion, which is over 42 times the combined wealth of the 8 richest men. This is still a staggering amount of wealth. Take the combined wealth of the 8 men discussed here, multiply that by 42 and we are approaching the size of the US economy! According to this GDP ranking, $426 billion is about the same as the GDP of Iran, which is about $425 billion. Iran is in the 26th largest economy in the world (according to one of the three ranking in the Wikipedia link). Any way you cut it, these 8 individuals are very wealthy.