Monday, March 11, 2013


“To be rich is glorious,” the words of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, credited with launching the world’s most populous nations economic growth of the last three decades.

The beginning – and lesser known part of that quote is that, “Socialism is not poverty.”

It’s that time of the year again when Forbes magazine releases its list of the world’s richest individuals.

The numbers continue to boggle.

The 1,426 billionaires who made the list this year have a combined wealth of $5.4trillion (I will not bother to convert into shs). If they were a country they would be the fourth largest economy, coming in after Japan and  ahead of Germany. The richest man in the world is Mexican oligarch Carlos Slim whose $73b net worth is about 90% the size of the East African Community economy or four times the size of Uganda’s GDP.

Interestingly if they spread the dollars evenly among these billionaires they would each have $3.8b and this would make three in four of the billionaires wealthier than they are now.

The US with 442 billionaires has the largest share then Asia-Pacific 386, Europe 366, Americas 129. Africa has 20 billionaires.

Beyond the headache that comes from trying to wrap one’s mind around the numbers, of greater concern to some is the concentration of wealth among a handful of individuals that this annual list represents.

I am not one of the concerned people.

A lot of the concern comes from a lack of understanding of how wealth is created and retained.

The reason why these billionaires or two in every 100,000 human beings control such prodigious amounts of wealth, is because they are doing something that the rest of us are not willing to do. Unlike us mere mortals they worked smarter, thought better or sacrificed longer. To everyone according to his output is fair reward.

Of course there are a few heirs who were fortunate enough to win the genetic lottery but they are in the minority.

People who begrudge these captains of capitalism their billions also labour under the mistaken impression that these ladies and gentlemen have stashed all their net worth in vaults under their mattresses.

It’s only poor people who hold cash.

The networth of these billionaires is held in their companies. They became rich by making products or providing services, their wealth is a measure of how helpful they have been to more and more people.

And finally the haters wonder why one person would need all those billions, after all we live in one house, sleep in one bed and eat with one mouth at a time.

For the poor man money is for spending, for the rich man – read billionaire, money is for making more money.

A survey done in America in the eighties showed that the average millionaire there owns a car that is not valued at more than seven percent of their net worth,  by extension a billionaire’s car would be an even smaller fraction of his net worth.

The billionaire understands that there is no money that is too much to be finished. And that it takes a lot of effort to just retain, leave alone grow his net worth. The way to do that is to serve more and more people through his companies and investments. In effect money is the byproduct of being a more helpful member of society. So if you are poor it is because you are not a helpful member of society.

One last gripe against the masters of the universe an extension of the criticism that they are hoarding their billions, is that they are mean and unwilling to share. Ironically Bill Gates has given away $28b since 2007 and in the process its estimated that his billions may have saved up to 5.8 million children through his charity’s work against malaria, polio and its vaccine programme. Not only does he remain the second wealthiest man on the planet his wealth has grown by almost a fifth during the period .

Clearly Jesus Christ had it right when he said “It is in giving that we  receive.”

It is unlikely that you will get any volunteers for a campaign to beatify members of the Forbes list, but one can make a compelling argument for the potential of a nation’s economy by the number of dollar billionaires it has. Needless to say Uganda is doing badly.

For a person to accumulate billions, capital has been effectively deployed for years,   generations even. The more people that can do this in an economy the better . Beyond providing much needed goods and services, they create jobs, finance social services and  infrastructure development through their taxes.

We need to keep our envy in check and instead of vilifying durable wealth understand how it is created, hopefully reproduce the process so we can become more useful members of society.

So Xiapong did have a point, to be rich is truly glorious.

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