The 500 wealthiest people in the world got more than $1 trillion richer in 2017 alone. Now they’re worried the working class will “strike back.”
The Bloomberg Billionaires Index calculates the wealth of the richest 500 people in the world, and measures how much their total net worth increased or decreased. Due to a bullish stock market, the fortunes of the wealthiest have grown by 23 percent in 2017, meaning the world’s richest now have more than $5.3 trillion to their names. That’s enough to completely fund single-payer healthcare for more than 300 million Americans for two full years.
Just in 2017, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns Whole Foods Market and the Washington Post, saw his net worth swell by $34.2 billion, largely due to his 16 percent ownership in Amazon maturing in value after banner online shopping days in October and November. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg increased his net worth by $22.6 billion, and Walmart heirs Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton each saw their own fortunes ballon by roughly $12 billion apiece.
Ever since the recession, the 500 richest people in the world saw their net worths increase by roughly $142 trillion, according to a report from Credit Suisse. This means the great wealth held by a small enough number of people to fill a church has concentrated even further, with the top 500 wealthiest controlling 50.1 percent of global wealth today, as opposed to 42.5 percent during the financial crash of 2008.
In the meantime, the bulk of the rest of the world is quickly becoming poorer. According to the Guardian, the world’s poorest 3.5 billion adults have, on average, less than $10,000 in total assets to their names. These adults represent 70 percent of the working population, but collectively control less than 2.7 percent of the world’s wealth.
Josef Stadler, lead author of the UBS Bank/PwC annual Billionaires Report, told The Guardian that some of his billionaire clients are secretly worrying that the poor may “strike back” if stark economic inequality continues unabated. While the gilded age of the early 20th century eventually came to an end with the advent of organized labor movements and the New Deal, the inequality of the ’10s seems to be skyrocketing with little to no interference from the government or workers.
Matthew P. Robbins is a freelance economics contributor covering wages, budgets, and taxes. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his husband and two cats.