As a sort of follow-on thought to this post, I always wonder about those published rankings of the ‘world’s wealthiest’. Whether one makes some sort of adjustment for local purchasing power or not, they seem to paint a rather narrow picture of what it means to be ‘wealthy’: a numerical tally of paper assets.
By this measure, perhaps the current dictator of North Korea is not all that ‘wealthy’. However, here’s also a fact: that guy can pretty much do or get any thing that he wants. (Can’t he?) So: is that not wealth? What more exactly could having the paper billions of, say, WhatsApp’s founder do for him?
From the other direction, surely for many of these people if one were to peek into their high-numerical assets and ask questions like ‘how easily could they liquidate it?’, ‘how much in bribes/protection money do they have to pay to keep it?’ or ‘what would happen to it if [such and such regime] fell out of favor?’ and get a wide variety of answers, probably rejiggering this ranking materially.
Then once you go down this road, you might start to wonder: shouldn’t the President of the United States be considered one of the wealthiest people in the world? He could decide today that he wants to fly somewhere tomorrow and not only would it happen, but traveling with him would be a small army of people devoted to his needs. He makes decisions that can redirect hundreds of billions in capital and get thousands of people killed. Surely that’s more than you can say for Instagram Guy.
One will protest, obviously, that this sort of ‘wealth’ is connected to political power (which in a U.S. President’s case is temporary) rather than economic power but above some level these things bleed together. Is Carlos Slim’s wealth really all that separable from politics, for example? How about all those Russians and Chinese on this list?
Not that I have a better measure of wealth at hand, but I do have this nagging sense that simply counting peoples’ money doesn’t tell the whole story.