According to the Financial Times, we can see billionaires through several different kinds of lenses.
Let’s take a look.
First, we can look at aggregate numbers. Since 2000 the trend line is up for billionaire wealth and the number of billionaires. In 2000 there were 470 billionaires while this year the number soared to 2,640.
Meanwhile FT says there are “good” and “bad” billionaires. The good ones productively made their money in tech for example. The “bad” ones were what economists would call rent seeking. By rent seeking they are referring to non-productive gains from areas like real estate. They also looked for inherited wealth. The answers there took them to France, Sweden, and India with their tilt toward inherited wealth, and the UK and Russia for their “bad” billionaires. And finally, they told us that South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Poland have little “billionaire bloat,”
In developed nations, France and Switzerland are near the top for billionaire wealth:
Meanwhile an emerging market billionaires list had India near the top:
Our Bottom Line: Global Inequality
While I am not sure if the presence of billionaires adds to or subtracts from global equality, let’s take the leap. According to a recent article in Foreign Affairs. among nations (but not within them) global wealth equality is converging. By global equality, they are referring to income disparities that are adjusted by price differences and compared through a 0-100 Gini Coefficient scale ( 0= full income equality//100 = one person has it all)
Simplifying the story, World Bank economist Branko Milanovic grouped inequality into three eras. Called the Great Divergence, the gap in per capita GDPs widened during the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Generalizing, we would have seen the higher income countries getting richer and the developing world with less. Then, remaining high, the global Gini moved from 67 to 70 until 2000 or so. But then, we have our Gini barometer dipping to 60 and convergence. Dr. Milanovic says one reason for the convergence is China’s growing wealth. He suggests that India could play the same role in the future:
At this point, as we conclude, where are we? It is just not enough to say that we are in an increasingly wealthy world with less extreme poverty. Between countries and within them, it is so much more complex.