The other 5 made their money in IT (Dell, Bezos, Zuck, Brin, Page).
I strongly suspect that maneuvering of this nature is the most likely reason for Cuba's undersea cable only being turned on for one way traffic. In lofty debates on political world views, we can often overlook the greedy. I'd imagine the same sorts of things were going on when the Soviet Union dissolved.
The only way you get to the notion that he was the richest ever, would be to speculate on what his empire would be worth today rather than just the dollar figure inflation adjusted.
Most likely, Bill Gates had the greatest private fortune in history at the peak of the Nasdaq bubble. Inflation adjusted it would be worth upwards of $150 +/- billion today.
But back in a time when life was not as good, for even rich people, as it is today. Not to mention medical care or even pain medication or air conditioning or any creature comforts (I'm remembering when cars didn't have even electric windows when I was really young).
Would you rather have 10 times the money you have and be back in the 1930's?
Similar also to computers. As anyone who has worked with a teletype, floppy drives, punch tape, or green ascii terminal can attest to vs. being able to ssh into your server from an ipad mini.
If I could keep my current knowledge, yes I think so. "Hey, guys, here's some capital; look into these 'semiconductor' things..."
I recognize that this is deliberately missing your point, however.
The amount of technological knowledge our civilization carries is enormous, and even if you are extremely knowledgeable, you are unlikely to know even 1% of it.
So yes, you would be able to move civilization forward in the magnitude of a few months. But that's about it.
However, I do think you are severely underestimating the benefits, for technological progress, of:
1) Knowing that things are possible, 2) knowing approximately where to look, and 3) having a large (and growing) pile of resources to put behind these things.
EDIT: Wikipedia meme, move along.
There is though still $120+ billion on his children in that list.
If your audience does shop at Walmart, or knows people who do, then pointing out Walmart's jaw dropping numbers will not be a good device for illuminating the importance of market validation. In fact it could encourage them carry on with the potentially mistaken assumption that the entire planet's needs/problems are the same as their own.
Sam Walton was listed as being worth $7.3 billion in 1990: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1990/...
the waltons are definitely number two, if not number one.
Ever consider orthogonal strategies?
My markov text came from scraped lyrics to a couple hundred hair metal songs. What did yours come from? :)
It's all very late 1800s.
When the Soviet Union fell apart a whole load of state assets were privatized right into the hands of well-connected people for below market value .
Pretty easy to make money when you're handed a monopoly, at a deep discount.
Taking all the economic activity that was going on under communism and immediately privatizing it is probably bound to create a few fortunes no matter how you do it, but the way it ended up happening in Russia was needlessly corrupt.
Oprah Winfrey is a self made billionaire (net worth ~$2.7 billion)
Edit: Stand corrected. Aliko Dangote.
Then I remembered, the old saying: "You gotta diversify yo bonds, nigga."  - The top spots have mining operations, tech, banking, etc.
 - http://www.comedycentral.com/video-clips/tw2ltp/chappelle-s-...
When you consider just how much money $10+ billion is, from an ethical standpoint, does any individual deserve to have that much money/power?
I can't help but think that it is really a grotesque thing for a single person to have more money than the GDP of a country like Cuba. There's just no way one person has contributed to society enough to justify that kind of wealth.
Except for thief, lottery, inheritance, marriage, or trickery, money is made when you've created value for others. Repeat and scale multiple times over, and you've not only made money, you've contributed and made others lives better, happier, more entertaining, or less stressful, etc.
Using their businesses as leverage, most of these billionaires have made their fortunes creating billions of dollars worth of value for the masses. They deserve every penny of it.
I'm sorry, but there's no way that any person's individual contributions to society are worth 3-4 orders of magnitude more than most other people's. And if there are such individuals, they are the Teslas, Newtons, Einsteins or other true geniuses whose ideas have shaped the world and opened up new possibilities - not the oil magnates, plutocrats or Wall Street bankers that make up most of this list.
The only way one could argue that all of the uber-rich deserve all of their money is if you subscribe to an incredibly simplistic, idealistic, optimistic Milton Friedman-esque economic and political philosophy which assumes that the earning of income directly corresponds to value added to the economy and society.
Why not? Just because it was likely timing, doesn't make the impact less great.
Your point seems to be that such a person isn't inherently that much better than someone else. Ok, but no one is inherently that great. 90% of "making it" in any of the senses is timing and placement, so it's really all relative.
By being able to post on HN you are about the same magnitude "better off" in real wealth terms compared to a man in the Shomali plains than a billionaire is to you. Does that make your accomplishments better compared to that Afghani man's?
Good point. I would say that no, my accomplishments are not. The fact that I spend more money on a nice dinner than some people make in a year is just another sign of the gross inequity in the world. Really that's all I'm saying - just pointing out that there is some sort of inherent injustice in the distribution of wealth, power and quality of life, and it is just much more plainly visible in the case of individual's with the purchasing power of entire nations. Just something to think about.
Creating value for others  or creating wealth?
That money isn't sitting around, it is paying for things. I point you to the misguided luxury taxes put on yachts because people buying them "deserved" to be taxed more. Well, all it did was ruin the yacht industry in the US and put a lot of people out of work. These people were being paid good money. That is grotesque and wrong.
There is no ethical argument for taking money from billionaires in higher share than anyone else that doesn't come down to envy. Limits on individuals place limits on society. Why hire more people and expand when you cannot enjoy the fruits of the work?
Perhaps it is an indication that Cuba is doing it very wrong.
What about diminishing marginal utility? The ethical argument would be that tax burden should be greater on those with a larger capacity to pay. (Usual caveats about taxing income vs. taxing wealth, etc. etc. etc.)
The billionaire's money is not in some vault. It is invested and being loaned as capital to other people trying to start companies. Since our system relies on capital, that money will create a lot more jobs being in their hands. Not many factory workers fund the next round of startups.
"The ethical argument would be that tax burden should be greater on those with a larger capacity to pay."
Why? Government is a service we have agreed to pay for. It has no divinity beyond a contract. The same rate is fair and just, but different rates or caps on earnings aren't. If I have ten dimes and tell a child 2 go to government as taxes, then show the child 10 $1 bills and ask them same question, I will get a fairer and better answer than most progressives. We the people give power to government and stealing more from successful people is wrong.
I can see a base deduction to protect the poor, but the tax code now and any system that takes huge percentages from higher income is just wrong.
I also think it provides an interesting perspective to view the government from a political and demographic angle. The government is (theoretically) the will of the majority (or supermajority, in some circumstances), with some protection for minority interests. Consider then that the median US income is $52,762 per year. Consider then that 51% of the population is going to make between $0-54k. Since it is in their economic interest to "offload" their tax burden, it is inevitable that the tax system would be progressive. The tendency towards a progressive tax system is tempered only by the fact that most people do own some wealth, the low/middle-classes own desire to be wealthy, and the economic necessity of rewarding people to grow the economy. This does not always apply since people are not always rational. I'm only saying that this is the reality.
>When you consider just how much money $10+ billion is, from an ethical standpoint, does any individual deserve to have that much money/power?
"And I worry about how democracy survives when one man can move cities with his mind."
A billionare may not be able to move a city with his mind, but he could outright buy one! Just a thought. :)
A tiny one then. About 20 000 houses in my neighborood would settle you for about $15bn. I'm not talking about a block on Wall Street or in the City with skyscrappers ; )
If one day you think you're rich, just go to N.Y. or Ginza (Tokyo) and look at the skyscrappers and ask yourself how many buildings you could buy. It's a humbling experience, even for very very very rich people.
I mean, sure, he could buy a village in the U.S. or in Europe but some things are just too expensive.
I also think you overestimate the power one billionaire has.
The current U.S. debt is 16 trillions. You could take the money from the 30 first of these list and you'd only be paying back one trillion (back at the 30th position it's already "poor" billionaires who only have $20bn or so).
In other words: you'd still have a 15 trillion public debt and you'd still be utterly and totally f*cked.
I'd say there are much more pressing purposes to deal with than the personnal wealth of a few hundreds of billionnaires...
Also, why does this get posted and upvoted on HN? So that the socialo-commie dudes can come out of the wood and start criticizing wealth creation and entrepreneurship?
I think that the reason people (like myself) call out billionaires is because they are such a convenient distillation of the real problem of income inequality.
>About 20 000 houses in my neighborood would settle you for about $15bn
Damn where do you live?? I might point out that $750,000 homes are not typical. ;) 120,000 more typical $125,000 homes could be had for the same $15bn sum. Which is just wild to think about.
One can argue that a free market is kind of like democracy, but how money and politics mix is contentious exactly because money in politics is seen by many as a degradation to a 'good' and fair representative democracy.
Start by tabooing "property" and assuming consequentialism. We have a monetary system that abstracts the idea of value; ownership isn't necessary for that to exist. The question we want to answer is, if we give an individual control over some value, and through their actions they cause additional value to come into being, how much of that additional value should we, through use of violence, enable them to control? The answer may range from "none of it" all the way up to "all of it".
Why would it be any of it? Possible reasons are at least twofold: First, that person may have demonstrated a unique ability to multiply value, which we wish to harness. Second, it may incentivize others who desire control to be more productive.
But lots more questions fall out of that. How likely is this person to be unusually productive again? How much of an incentive is this control to others, and how does it affect the overall growth of value? How much of an incentive is necessary to maintain our desired rate of growth? What is our desired rate of growth?
And on to more complicated ones: Say we decide to afford some amount of control. Should that amount be the same regardless of the value created? Should the scale be linear, quadratic, what? How should we respond to actors who fail to create, or actually destroy value?
As if that weren't enough to think about already, we now have to consider the externalities, what you might call "ethical" concerns. A couple of major ones:
Does our system unfairly determine the course of an individual's life based on the circumstances of their birth, making a mockery of the concept of freedom?
Does our system perversely incentivize us to manipulate it in order to increase nominal value, without an according improvement to the human condition?
This isn't intended to answer your question exactly, just to point out that 1) There are a lot of problems with the way we set all this up, but 2) We did set it up this way for good reasons, and 3) Anyone who takes all of this and gives you a "Of course they do" or "Of course they don't" has been indoctrinated.
In short, there's the "they deserve it because they'll use it optimally" argument, but there's also the "they won't necessarily use it optimally but it's still theirs to use as they wish" argument. You've very effectively deconstructed the first, but you've made no attempt to address the second.
The crucial question is, why do we feel they should have it? "It's theirs", "they earned it", "right to property"— these things are synonyms for the question. What are the real, underlying values that make us feel better when these "rights" are upheld, worse when they are ignored?
Now, personally I don't believe that the utilitarian explanation is anything more than a rationalization; the real-world history of the global economy is a writhing mass of motives, incentives, morals and power relationships which we have no hope of unpacking, and which we have no reason to think have arrived at any optimal result. However, I do think analyzing the former gets you quite a bit closer to something describably true than any amount of arguing over the latter.
True, but I never said that phrase, or any other tautological statement. I specifically mentioned the argument that doesn't talk about "deserving" at all, and in particular the argument that explicitly dismisses the idea that whoever would use it more efficiently deserves it more.
As for the underlying values in question: "they earned it so they get to choose how to use it" comes fairly close, though I feel certain that better statements of that principle exist (preferably tabooing "earned"). (I've also intentionally left out the cases that raise extra complexity and social questions/conventions, like inheritance.)
"Utilitiarian" is another term whose connotations you have to watch out for: whose utility? You've made the argument for overall social utility, but ignored the one for individual utility.
In any case, I'm not looking to actually explore that argument in depth, mostly because all the arguments on all sides have been argued to death; I simply wanted to compliment you on the deconstruction-based argument, while mentioning another form of the argument that you didn't appear to have considered.
>how much of that additional value should we... enable them to control? The answer may range from "none of it" all the way up to "all of it".
Both extremes are wrong. I find myself frustrated that in the US at least (where top marginal income tax rates have been plummeting for the past 30+ years under the influence of neo-liberalism), far too many people are comfortable flirting with the "all of it" end of the spectrum.
Furthermore, and I'd say far more indefensible, what is the social value of billionaires who inherited their net worth. Or, why aren't estate taxes on estates over $1B 100%.
It's possible that in an economy, when the billionaires win, we all win, if the productivity gains are enjoyed by all. But as we're seeing in the US now, after some point in massive wealth, the wealthy inevitably use their economic power to buy political power, in order to influence laws that give them more economic power.
Not to mention if someone has $10 billion, it's much more likely they've done immoral or illegal acts to obtain that wealth than someone with $10,000. Money attracts power, and power corrupts.
Put another way, for at least some billionaires, you can trace their entire fortune back to voluntary decisions by ordinary people to exchange their money for something else to the reasonable mutual benefit of both parties. If I can somehow voluntarily convince 1 billion ordinary people to give me $10 each, and every single one of those people can be reasonably said to have benefitted from the transaction, who exactly are you to come in and say "hang on a minute, you have ten billion dollars, how can this be legit?" Sure, you can't say this of every billionaire, maybe you can't even say it of most billionaires, but it's hard to imagine a free world where this kind of thing is utterly impossible.
Also, if it makes you feel any better, a lot of these billion dollar fortunes are a little more illusory than you think--if you own 51% of a company that's worth 20 billion dollars on the stock market, on paper you might have 10 billion dollars but there's no way you're going to get 10 billion dollars worth of $100 bills in briefcases anytime soon.
It's not like their money hidden in a vault. Furthermore they may have spent it, thus converting their money into a non-monetary asset like a home, yet it still counts when calculating wealth.
And they're at these "high" levels only because Cuba wasn't doing bad at all before the communist took power and because, after the revolution, Cuba was heavily subsidized by soviet russia (they were sending billion of $ to Cuba).
Thing is: if Cuba was a place of freedom where people were free to create businees, maybe Larry and Sergey's parents would have moved to Cuba and created Google there, say in Pig's bay which would have been the Cuban Silicon Valley. And Cuba's GDP would be closer to the one it should have.
In my opinion people able to earn $10bn know much about creating present growth and future wealth than people admiring homophobic racist mysoginist slaughterers like Che Guevara.
So, no, I don't find it unfair at all that a single person is more "wealthy" than the GDP of communist countries ; )
I have read that before the fall of communism in Hungary, the inventor of the Rubik's Cube made more foreign exchange income for the Hungarian state than all the state-owned enterprises combined.
I noticed that too. The link was submitted with a search string appended, methinks, rather than in canonical form.
Submitting canonical links is friendly to HN users:
>Bloomberg News editorial policy is to not cover Bloomberg L.P. As a result Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, isn’t considered for this ranking.
Also, as you can see from the Russian billionaires on the list, many influential people have made vast fortunes when state-owned monopolies were "privatized" and became privately-owned monopolies.
I think Mexico can be more easily grouped with the BRIC countries, rather than, say, Kenya and Cambodia.
I guess the only point I really want to make is that naming and labeling is a difficult problem, even outside of computer science.
Point is: if you redirect money from where it was intended to be, you can make a lot of money. Especially in 3rd world countries where systems to keep this behavior in check are too weak or non-existent.
(I don't know how Mr.Slim made his money though; I'm commenting more on the surprise for billionaire's from 3rd world countries)
They drew eyebrows on Larry Ellison.
(Reference image: http://allthingsd.com/files/2012/05/larry_ellison1.png)
Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations, is a classic inheritance saying for a reason. Hand someone a large sum of money as inheritance and I would argue they're just as likely to destroy it as preserve it (much less grow it substantially).
It's far easier to destroy $50 million than to multiply it by 1,000 times (which is what the Koch brothers did).