Line chart and statistics of billionaire total net worth, average and median fortunes, compared with  gross world product in current and constant US$.  The relative weight of billionaire net worth in constant US$ follows an upward path from 3.4% in 1996 to 9.9% in 2016, corresponding to an annual average growth rate of 5.8% — almost twice as fast as the 3% annual average growth of real GWP. To put it plainly, billionaires have been deflecting to their balance sheets a growing share of the world's output — indeed their cut increases annually 2.8 percent points faster than the world product.

World billionaires' net worth as percent of the gross world product (GWP) has been on a fast ride since 1996, as highlighted by the trend (red regression line) for the period 1996-2016. In 1996 the whole world should have to work 8 solid days to produce an output equal to the total net worth of the then existing billionaires. In 2016 the world would have to contribute an additional 10 workdays, bringing these to 18 days, to match the wealth of the current 1,810 billionaires.

Some highlights:

In hindsight, the 2008 crisis looks like the initial tumor of a metastatic cancer that has been spreading alarmingly thereafter. Nothing seems to work properly in the world economy anymore. Global economic uncertainty is peaking in this present time, opening the way to the ominous sluggishness of both consumption and investment. The skies become the more menacing as the monetary policies of zero or negative interest rates, and of the germane increases of the money supply, courtesy of the central banks, keep flooding financial institutions with inexpensive capital that ends up overwhelmingly in profits for the already wealthiest. The profligacy of government spending, especially sterile defense spending, adds to the turbulence.

Symptoms of the metastasis are ubiquitous. The instability of international currencies. The equity-market pandemonium. The commodities debacle (oil at the top of the list). The creeping unemployment. The standstill of labor income. The climbing indebtedness of both public and private economic agents. The shrinking redistribution by the state. All of the above impact the poor as well as the wealthy. But they come harder on the regular consumer and the regular taxpayer, rendering their lives more difficult and more precarious. Billionaires, as a caste, have demonstrated their power to stand the test virtually unscathed.


Billionaire Net Worth as Percent of Gross World Product
1996 - 2016

Year ¹

World Billionaires

GWP (gross world product) ²

Billionaire Net Worth as percent of GWP

Number Net Worth
(billion US$ current)
Net Worth
(billion US$ constant, 2009=100) ³
(billion US$ constant, 2009=100)
(billion US$ constant, 2009=100)
(trillion US$ current) (trillion US$ constant
1995     30.340.3 
Average annual change rate7.5%9.5%7.5%0.05%-1.5%5.2%3.3%4.2%
¹ Year of publication of Forbes list of billionaires.
² Forbes estimates are a snapshot of billionaire wealth as of the beginning of the year. We therefore relate billionaires' wealth to GWP of the preceding year.
³ US$ constant (2009=100) are estimated by applying the US$ GDP deflator for the preceding year.




Sources: Forbes List of World Billionaires, International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, and CIA World Factbook.


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