The newly released Billionaires Report 2018 confirms the truism that the rich keep getting richer. Or as it may be less elegantly stated, “them that has, gets.” And they’re getting more than ever.
For some readers, UBS/PwC study is a tantalizing summary of the global rich and frequently famous. For investors, businesses, and trend watchers, it’s much more than that. It is a hologram of a global power shift. There are lessons to absorb here.
The Rich Are Getting Much Richer
The most obvious finding in the latest Billionaires Report is how much wealth is concentrating into a few hands. The world has 2,158 billionaires, to be precise. Together, they are worth $8.9 trillion.
To state a number in round trillions obscures just how big $8,900,000,000 is. They could buy a small nation or several of them. If they opted for landmass, their amassed wealth exceeds the GDP of Greenland.
The 2018 report documents shifts that occurred in 2017. That year, the average value of assets held by the world’s billionaire corps rose nearly 20%. Even more startling, that leap followed an 18% increase for billionaire assets in 2016.
This is the greatest surge in wealth among the mega-rich since the Gilded Age.
The findings of the UBS report confirm what DeLoitte revealed in an Issues by Numbers Bulletin this spring. Wealth is growing much faster at the top.
Some of that increase among billionaires happened naturally as their ranks swelled by in the past year 9%…or 178 souls. But most of the increase in accumulated net worth truly is a matter of the rich getting richer.
Wealth Moves West and West Again
As usual, the US leads the world in tycoons with 585 billionaires. Our claim to be the land of opportunity gets support as well. Slightly more than two-thirds of US billionaires are self-made.
Back in Europe, slightly more than half the billionaires inherited their money.
It’s the picture in Asia that’s most interesting, though. Especially China.
There’s a clear continuum. Europe is mostly old money. America is slightly more than half new money. But in China, 91% of billionaires are self-made.
China is suddenly so prolific at creating new wealth that in 2017 it spawned an average of two new billionaires every week. China taken along with the rest of Asia minted an average 3 new billionaires per week.
Some BRICs Fell
It seems not so long ago that the BRIC nations were touted as engines of growth for the coming century. That stood for Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
The futurists got it half right. China has lived up to its promise. India is also doing extremely well at wealth creation.
Russia and Brazil, not so well. Brazilian billionaires only saw a 2% growth in their assets.
Russia can claim 101 billionaires, but their wealth only rose 5%. Not surprisingly given its Communist history, there is no inherited wealth on the Russian billionaire list. Russian billionaires are self-made. Some might say, self-dealt. Among them, figures like Vladimir Putin mysteriously emerged from government jobs will massive fortunes in hand.
Why Coding Camp Is Better than Trump U for Raising Billionaires
Billionaires made their fortunes in real estate, commerce, retail, insurance and many other routes. But the career path most likely to culminate in mega-dollars runs through technology.
People who are billionaires today created 80% of the 40 biggest breakthrough or disruptive technologies of the last 40 years.
These billionaires have driven the computer revolution, smartphones, Internet, e-commerce, social networking, and GPS, says the report. They have also pioneered medical science, DNA testing, and genome mapping.
The Revolution Is Rich
The Billionaires Report has highlighted something else about the link between technology and wealth. In the past, self-taught tinkerers like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison could establish massive fortunes. Reaching the top in technology these days requires substantial education, especially in science engineering, medicine, and math.
One of the global trends now showing up among billionaires is the importance of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” This is the emerging technology that blurs the lines between digital, human, and physical spheres. This is the world of nanotechnology, AI, Internet of Things, robotics, and biotech.
While the traditional routes to wealth such as real estate, finance, and commerce remain there is a definite connection with how wealth is made and where.
In Asia, for instance, nearly a third of the new billionaires came to the list as technical innovators and business model disruptors. Finance is a leading path to wealth in the US.
Old industries still carry weight, but they too have moved on.
In the Gilded Age, several US tycoons based their fortunes in natural resources—including the Rockefellers, the Gettys, and the Astors. Today, Basic Materials are hardly a blip among US billionaires. Only one of the country’s 30 new self-made billionaires was involved in basic materials. In contrast, 22 of China’s 89 new self-made billionaires are basic material moguls.
But there’s one place where the US stays far ahead of the world—we have more billionaires from the entertainment and media than all of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East combined.