Can anyone earn a billion? Do fortunes impoverish others?
Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, now richer than Bill Gates
Asia is leading the comeback. Their billionaires grew by 80%. What’s that mean for their billions of poor? We trim, blend, and append two 2010 articles from (1) Reuters, Mar 10, by Michelle Nichols and (2) the AP, Mar 11, by Mark Stevenson.
by Michelle Nichols and by Mark StevensonReuters: Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim is the world's richest person, knocking Microsoft founder Bill Gates into second spot, according to the 24th annual Forbes magazine list.
Forbes estimated Slim's net worth at $53.5 billion, compared to Gates's $53 billion fortune, while investor Warren Buffett came in at No. 3 with $47 billion.
The trio regained $41.5 billion of the $68 billion they had lost the previous year. The wealth of the world's billionaires grew by 50% over the last year,
Gates had held the title in 14 of the last 15 years. Last year, Gates was followed by Buffett and Slim. Buffett was No. 1 in 2008.
There are now around the world 1,011 billionaires, compared with 793 last year and 1,125 in 2008.
The number American billionaires rose by more than 40 to 403. However, America's share of billionaires dropped to 40% from 45% of the total a year ago.
The net wealth of billionaires grew to $3.6 trillion from $2.4 trillion last year, but is still down from 2008's $4.4 trillion.
"Financial markets have come back from the lows of just about a year ago, particularly in emerging markets,” Steve Forbes, chief executive of Forbes, said.
"Asia is leading the comeback.” The number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region grew by 80% to 234 and their net worth almost doubled to $729 billion.
Two Indians round out the top five richest people in the world -- Mukesh Ambani, with a petrochemicals, oil and gas fortune of $29 billion, and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who is valued at $28.7 billion. China, with 64, is now home to the most billionaires outside of the United States.
The top homes to billionaires are New York with 60 and Moscow with 50, followed by London with 32.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 25, is the world's youngest with $4 billion. The second-youngest self-made billionaire is Japan's Yoshikazu Tanaka, 33, with $1.4 billion from social networking firm Gree. The oldest is 99-year-old Walter Haefner from Switzerland who has $3.3 billion.
While Gates's and Buffett's fortunes far exceed most others in the top 10, their fortunes would be even greater if they hadn't given away a lot of money. "Buffett would be worth at least $55 billion ... and Gates' net worth would exceed $80 billion."
AP: For the first time, a person from a developing nation leads Forbes' list of billionaires. Slim's arrival at the top aroused both pride and anger in Mexico.
Slim's fortune jumped an estimated $18.5 billion over the past year, as his cell phone holdings recovered. Slim, the 70-year-old son of an immigrant shopkeeper, is the controlling shareholder in both America Movil and Grupo Carso Telecom. Slim also owns a stake in New York Times Co.
Taiwan tripled its number to 18, Turkey more than doubled to 28, and Brazil increasing by 50 percent to 18. Russia almost doubled its number of billionaires to 62.
Slim's conglomerate so dominates Mexican commerce that Mexicans can talk over a Slim-operated cell phone at a Slim-owned shopping center waiting to pay a bill to a Slim-owned company at a Slim-owned bank. If the line is too long, they can catch a coffee at a Slim-owned restaurant.
His Telmex telephone company controls 83 percent of landlines in Mexico and is the leading Internet service provider. Another of his firms is the top cell phone operator, and he wants to get into convergence services to offer television and interactive media.
Slim also owns the Sears and Saks retail stores operating in Mexico.
More than 50 million of Mexico's 107 million people live in poverty, defined as not having enough money to meet housing, transport, education, and other normal expenses. Extreme poverty -- defined as not having money to buy enough food -- afflicted 19.5 million of them.
Ernesto Villanueva, 45, of Mexico City, said, "This is part of what is wrong with the Mexican political system and the corruption in the circles of power, that allow there to be a few rich people and millions of poor."
JJS: How do you become a billionaire? You can not work that hard, you can not invest that smart; no open, competitive market offers that kind of salary or dividends. Intelligence helps but not as much as a commercial mentality, a hankering for profit.
But more than all that, it’s the aid of politicians. Fortunes are made by “privatizing social values and socializing private costs”. Slim was granted a monopoly on the airwaves in Mexico (he accrued social values), while gents like Mukesh Ambani get to make others pay for their pollution.
Now, imagine a government that defends rights, that uses geonomics. No more corporate welfare, like bailouts for bankers. No more taxes on earnings, letting small businesses compete.
Instead, government would recover the socially-generated value of land (no more undue real estate tycoons) and resources (no more undue oil tycoons), then pay citizens a dividend. Receiving a fair share of natural values -- the commonwealth -- then people can refuse low-paying jobs and companies would have to pay employees more.
There’d still be rich people, thanks to mass markets in gigantic economies, but every penny would be earned. And nobody would be poor.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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