Oh, joy! Forbes’ annual billionaires issue just arrived, and it does not disappoint.
You have certainly heard about the financial crisis. But let’s review: The cracks in the system began to appear in 2007, right about the time the stock market reached an all-time high in October of that year. By September of 2008, less than a year later, the world financial system was on the brink of total collapse and the entire international financial community was in a panic. Six months later, four years ago, the stock market tanked, losing more than half its value. Since then, as if by magic, the stock market has fully recovered and is now breaking records daily.
What are we to make of this remarkable recovery? It’s a teachable moment that confirms Scott Fitzgerald’s observation: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” How different? Let us count the ways.
In March 2008, the year the market reached an all-time high, there were 1,125 billionaires on the planet. The following year, when the market tanked, that number dropped to 793. Oh, the devastation! Masses of unemployed, homes foreclosed by the millions, individuals declaring bankruptcy, companies going under, sovereign nations unable to pay their bills.
But then, there are the billionaires. They are different. One year after the market bottom, their number climbed back up to 1,011, and has been moving on up ever since. In 2011, there was a 20% increase to 1,210. In 2012, a slight bump up to 1,226. But then this year, an explosive increase of 17% to a new high of 1,426. The average billionaire is worth $3.7 billion, and their collective worth amounts to $5.4 trillion. And the wealthiest of the wealth? Carlos Slim Helu, Mexican telecoms magnate, $73 billion.
Meanwhile, for the non-billionaires, the world economy is at a standstill and starting to drift backward. The future is bleak. Some are predicting a recovery five or even ten years into the future. Such a quick recovery for the billionaires; such a long slog for the rest of us.
Pray tell, what’s wrong with this picture?
Tell it like it is, Bing: “Brother, can you spare a dime?”