The Billionaires Club

I was reading Forbes one night, and came across a listing of the 2000+ billionaires Forbes monitors. They do not monitor Royal Families or dictators, so some individual (as opposed to corporate) wealth is still not accounted for.

The original data was scraped from a report from spring 2019. The current data taken from the Forbes website is a snapshot from March 2020. This reflects the losses taken by the stupidly rich due to the COVID-19 battering of the stock market. You will be pleased to know that most of them have recovered from that shock and since the wealth they had in 2019.

I could subscribe to the Forbes spreadsheet, at 1500 clams per year, for updated info, but I only wanted to know who is a billionaire, not make one.

But you get to see that Jeff Zebos has a 100+ billion $US. He is wealthier than the total for all of the last 50 or so stupidly wealthy individuals. And wealthier than some countries.

Naturally, when faced with the vast inequality of life and data, I figured a database is in order. I scrape the current list from Forbes, modify it slightly, and have created a DB, and some code to show the fun bits.

Who are the 50 worst-wealthy

Billionaires by range of wealth extracted from us

Billionaires by how they got our money

Billionaires sorted by country

Billionaires by country per capita

Billionaires by nation

With a reference point in 2019 and in 2020, we can now see the Biggest Losers, those who lost most by March 2020, when COVID rattled the stock market.
Of course, the markets came roaring back and most of these paper losses have been recovered.

A snapshot of Canada's billionaires was taken from real-time data, to see how much damage had been done from March 2020 to now due to COVID-19 wracking the economy and shatterng the stock market. Ah, uhm, none, it turns out.

UPDATE Oct 2020: Reuters notes an increase in B-Class wealth. Ten trillions. Ten. Trillions.

Graphic representing the number of Billionaires in the general population

Graphic representing the number of Ultra-High Net Worth (greater than $30 millions (†) in net worth) individuals in the general population

First Dog uses a money moon to illustrate the Billionaire Problem.

Someday, as a public service we will prepare a graphic or google map representing the locations of their bunkers, where they will attempt to hide from the climate catastrophe they were instrumental in creating.

Forbes does NOT publish a real-time list of the billion most-impoverished people. Lack of balance there, I think.

† Various source define UHNW (Ultra-high Net Worth as $30 or $50 millions in net worth. We will try to be clear whenever we use the term.


From the Credit Suiss Wealth Report for 2018:

    The millionaire and ultra-high net worth (UHNW) portions of the wealth pyramid have changed
    more than any other segment this century. The number of millionaires has trebled, while the
    number of UHNW individuals (with net worth exceeding USD 50 million) has risen fourfold,
    making them the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.
    

Thus, the wealth of billionaires beggars belief. If UHNW starts at 50 millions, the most-impoverished of these billionaires are 20 times more wealthy than the entry point for UHNW. 20x. Twenty.Times.

See the english reports, copied to my website; the report here and the databook here


Investopedia reports the richest and poorest per capita. Some of the billionaires are richer than the GDP of whole countries with the poorest people.


Some of the press for the rich talks about billionaires as if they actually worked (like you and I understand that word) for their money. I worked for 50 years, so to be a billionaire after working, I would have had to make $1,000,000,000/50 years ... click-click-click ... $20 million per year. So, at a 40-hour week and 50 weeks per year (wouldn't want to kill myself working, eh?) ... click-click-click ... that is 2000 hours per year, let's see here ... click-click-click ... $10,000 an hour.

Nice pay, if you can get it.

Thus, Michael Bloomberg, who is making do with $50 bn, was paid, if we assume 50 years of work, let's see here ... click-click-click ... 50 x $10,000 an hour, or half a million an hour. Really nice pay, if you can get it.

Elizabeth Warren set up a tax calculator, because she has a plan for taxing the rich. But, the rich are quick to caution about the problem with taxing the rich. They might run away, and take the money with them.


I am looking for a statistic on how many serial-killers/mass murderers are amongst us at any one time, and whether that number is greater or less than the number of billionaires. In other words, are billionaires more of an aberration than large-scale killers? For this stat, any number of murders greater than one is the threshold. One could be a accident, two or more might be a pattern developing there. Direct or indirect murdering is OK, so a Clifford Olsen and an Idi Amin are on the same footing here.


Oxfam has a report that is a couple of years old. From the opening page of the Oxfam report published January, 2017:

AN ECONOMY FOR THE 99%
        It is four years since the World Economic Forum identified rising economic inequality as a
        major threat to social stability, and three years since the World Bank twinned its goal for
        ending poverty with the need for shared prosperity. Since then, and despite world
        leaders signing up to a global goal to reduce inequality, the gap between the rich and the
        rest has widened. This cannot continue. As President Obama told the UN General
        Assembly in his departing speech in September 2016: 'A world where 1% of humanity
        controls as much wealth as the bottom 99% will never be stable.'
        Yet the global inequality crisis continues unabated:
        
        - Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.
        - Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world.
        - Over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs - a sum
        larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.
        - The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between
        1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much.
        - A FTSE-100 CEO earns as much in a year as 10,000 people in working in garment
        factories in Bangladesh.
        - In the US, new research by economist Thomas Piketty shows that over the last 30 years
        the growth in the incomes of the bottom 50% has been zero, whereas incomes of the
        top 1% have grown 300%.
        - In Vietnam, the country's richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person
        earns in 10 years.

The inequality has only increased in the interim since the Oxfam report was published. An English copy of the full report is here and the summary is here.


The bad news in the latest report on the UHNW (†) thingies, published by Wealth-X for 2018, shows their population is not increasing as quickly as in past years (there are now 265,480 of these lost souls) and they lost a bit of money in the year, dropping 1.7 % to a combined wealth of $32.3t. Each one percent of 32000 billions is 320 billions, so we can assume they will be back, soon, looking for more († †).
I liberated the report from Wealth-X, and have it on my site so you can read it and pity the rich but you can download your own copy from Wealth-X or find the story at the Guardian here.

It is worth noting that the 2000+ billionaires are a subset of the UHNW individuals, and represent roughly 1 percent of the class of stupidly wealthy.

(†) NB: Wealth-X define UHNW as starting at $ 30 millions.

(† †)You may want to pitch in and help the UHNW. Canadians can do so now, as the election approaches for 2019, by pleading for tax cuts for the wealthy.


Some of the problem

Tax Havens

Tax havens and especially the UK help the rich avoid sharing wealth with us.
It is hard to sympathize with the residents of the Bahamas after the Dorian affair, knowing that the government forgoes taxes that could help pay to find the dead, bury the bodies, rebuild the homes.
The fix would be to toss their government, make it a regular country, and quit breaking the tax sovereignty of other nations.
They could, but the rich will put a quick stop to that kind of tomfoolery.
Hurricane Dorian may be climate-change induced; there is no reason to suspect it was not somehow enhanced by the global heating. And it is a portent of things to come. We can imagine all sorts of weather disasters, affecting millions of poor folk, while the rich simply go about their business.
I would not mind if the UK set up the Falklands Islands as their only branch-plant tax-haven, with an eight-month of the year residency rule to get the benefits.

Good havens, even a United State or two or three is part of the problem.

Basic Greed

In her book Plutocrats, Chrystia Freeland has a chapter called "Plutocrats and the Rest of Us." I am OK with Freeland not lumping herself in with the plutocrats, she is writing mainly of the super-greedy, not just well-to-do cabinet ministers.
Writing about studies trying to determine if the rich were somehow better than us, she quotes Paul Piff, from UC Berkeley:
"Relative to lower-class individuals, individuals from upper-class backgrounds behaved more unethically."

Jane Mayer's book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right is a charming look at how the Koch brothers and others bought America's political class and tilted the field towards their wallets.

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda McQuaig are good sources for info on how the rich just took it all.

George Monbiot column re neoliberalism in the Guardian is worth reading. It is a quick overview of how Milton Friedman broke the world.

Philanthropy

Or is that phil-misanthropy? They cannot even give it away (mostly to their own class) without doing harm.

Alms for the Rich, alms for the Rich

Corporate Greed

Here is Milt, writing in the New York Times in 1970:
But the doctrine of "'social responsibility" taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book "Capitalism and Freedom," I have called it a "fundamentally subversive doctrine" in a free society, and have said that in such a society, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception fraud."
But, Milt forgets that the problem is there is no free market, no open and free competition. That is all de-regulated away, hence the dot com bubble, and the 2008 crash, and the grotesque inequality of wealth and incomes we see now. Free market defenders forget the oil subsidies that enrich the fossil-fuel industry; those are effectively socialist payouts from the poor upstream to the rich.

Shareholder value is mendacious. Companies expend vast amounts of capital just to increase the stock values for the rich. This activity is in lieu of investing in equipment, wages, people, jobs, and all the other trickle-down that just does not work, because of the torrent-up. So, we see that pensions are not fully funded, but shareholders are richly rewarded. It matters that CEO take stocks as income; this makes if very worthwhile for them to prefer to increase stock values over any other activity.

Milton Friedman, the Chicago School of Economics, James Laffer, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher really did change everything, and nobody has fixed it since.


The Threats

Threats

Each billionaire poses a threat to the rest of us. For example, for an individual, some or the bulk the wealth may be amassed by business interest in something like fossil fuels, and typically those people have resisted policies to control and reduce carbon emissions. Or, the business has a firm anti-union stance, or the firm makes its money from customer data, and the firm has not shown great diligence in protecting that data.

The list is actively being developed, current version is here


The Bunkers

when I googled "billionaires climate bunker", I expected to end up at conspiracy websites running on tor servers, on the darkest part of the web. But, unfortunately, I found stories at MSNBC, CBS, ABC, the Guardian and others. Ignoring Trump and his theory of "fausses nouvelles", these respectable news outlets suggest the very rich are setting up bunkers where they can live out future disasters, including such things as a pending climate catastrophe that they are perfectly aware of and are preparing for.

Some of these bunkers are repurposed missile silos, which has a nice irony of escaping a future doomsday in the doomsday machinery of the past. Others are being buried in New Zealand. One reads of a group of Silicon Valley billionaires, with go-bags and a private jet at the ready for the trip from California to NZ. Some of these shelters are designed for the long haul, with, of course, the required state of luxury. There is no reason one should endure hardship while hiding in the dirt from the catastrophe one caused. There are also mini-bunkers, suitable for burying in the backyard, and good for a few days shelter. And Bezos and Musk are both supporting research into solutions that could involve Mars colony or low earth orbit habitats. But that just seems to be the stuff of science fiction.

These people are weird.

Suppose you go into your bunker, and it has self-contained life support for ten years. And, when the outside monitors report the air is ok to breathe, and the temperature is ok, you open the door... to a barren wasteland, because the billions died; the billions of humans and birds and bats and bees and plants and mammals and reptiles and fish and sharks.

I hope the library for each bunker contains a copy of A Boy and his Dog by Harlan Ellison. Wool by Hugh Howey is highly recommended, and the first five seasons of the ever-optimistic "The 100" on Netflix has a charmingly upbeat take on the post-apocalypse era.

One can only hope that the builders and suppliers of the bunkers will at the end of the day reveal the locations to us, after the billionaires have all gone to earth. It would be nice to be able to park a heavy vehicle blocking the door for each bunker. Or, weld the doors shut, just to make sure the ultra-rich are ultra-safe.


The Solution

We will propose to the richest 2000 that they share with the poorest 3 billion. See the plan here. If they refuse to share, we can do what the French did in 1789.