Amidst a sea of lost jobs, slashed wages and austerity measures, the super-rich seem super-resistant, with their wealth doubling since the financial crisis, adding $226 billion to their wealth in the last year alone.
The Wealth X and UBS Billionaire Census 2013 makes for sobering reading, in that it seems to confirm many peoples’ suspicions that the financial crisis, while a nightmare for so many, has actually been a windfall for the world’s richest.
To better grasp the vast wealth of the ultra-high net-worth individuals (UHNW), their combined fortunes are now greater than the GDP of any country aside from the United States and China, and could fund the entire US budget deficit until 2024, according to the report.
The combined fortune of the world's billionaires now stands at $6.5 trillion, up from $3.1 trillion in 2009, according to the Billionaire Census. On an interesting side note, the bulk of the wealth of the world’s richest derives from the recently rescued financial and banking sector (17 percent), with manufacturing making up just 8 percent.
The United States leads the billionaire class with 515, for a combined wealth of over $2 trillion dollars. China comes in a distant second place with 157; followed by Germany at 148; the United Kingdom at 135; and Russia with 108.
Of the 2,170 billionaires, 87 percent are male, while the four ‘mega-billionaires’, who each have a net worth of more than US$50 billion, are self-made individuals. These mega-billionaires are Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Amancio Ortega Gaona and Warren Buffet.
Membership into the elite club of super-rich has surged 60 percent since 2009, with 810 new billionaires added during the period, bringing the number to 2,170. But this seems to be just the first stage of a growth spurt, as the report forecasts that the number of billionaires will increase by 1,700 individuals to nearly 3,900 by the year 2020.
The report also offers some surprises, especially in terms of where the greatest amount of wealth generation is taking place. Asia is “driving the tectonic shifts in wealth,” according to the report, which reveals that wealth in Asia has “increased by 13 percent, the fastest of any region.”
Asia, with China leading the drive, has also contributed the largest number of additional billionaires (18) to the list this year.
Europe, plagued as it is with economic uncertainty, was the only region to suffer a decline in the number of billionaires. Meanwhile, Latin America was the slowest growing region in terms of wealth generation, increasing by just 2.3 percent.
“The vast expansion in the incomes of the super-rich comes even as social services are being slashed in the US, Europe and throughout the world,” the World Socialist Website railed. “Earlier this month, food stamp benefits were reduced for the first time in US history, and extended unemployment benefits are scheduled to expire entirely at the end of the year.”
The combined net worth of the 515 billionaires in the United States would be able to fund the food stamp and extended unemployment benefit program for 100 years, it added.
Aside from examining the gravity-defying numbers, the census also provides a peek into the personal extravagances of the ultra-wealthy: “the most popular hobbies among billionaires; how much of their wealth is invested in real estate and how many houses they own on average; and how much of their fortunes is spent on luxury holdings like yachts and private jets.”
As the report noted, “The average billionaire owns four homes, with each one worth nearly US$20 million.”
With all these homes and properties in diverse locations around the globe, the fabulously wealthy also require means of transportation.
“Time and space are rarely boundaries for the world’s billionaires, many of whom have a private jet or two, a super yacht and other comfortable and speedy modes of transport,” the census revealed.
It also provides a list the top 10 universities according to their billionaire alumni, who have a mindboggling combined net worth of $863 billion.
The report also noted “large disparities” between male and female billionaires when it comes to their source of wealth. Overall, 60 percent of the billionaires are considered self-made, only 17 percent of female billionaires are included in this category. Seventy-one percent of the females in the census inherited their wealth, although the report predicts this trend will change over time given the number of female entrepreneurs entering the marketplace.
On a more personal level, the average billionaire has 2.1 children, while 15 percent of billionaires have four or more children. At the same time, the report revealed there are several billionaires with eight, nine, while one Middle Eastern billionaire had a “staggering 24 children!”
The world’s super-rich are mostly huddled in the major financial cities, such as New York City, which has 96 billionaires, followed by Hong Kong with 75, Moscow with 74, and London with 67.