Monday, March 12, 2007

Forbes List

The gap gets ever wider

The Forbes list of the richest people in the world was published recently. According to the list, which gets made annually, the number of billionaires in the world is on the rise (946 to be exact). The combined worth of these people grew by 35% in the past year to $3.5 trillion. This is more than the GDP of every nation in the world other than the USA, China, Japan and India.

The list in itself is a worship of the richest people on the planet. Topping it for the 13th consecutive time is Microsoft’s Bill Gates with an estimated net worth of $56 billion. Coming in second place is investor Warren with $52 billion.

The third in this list of the wealthiest people in the world is Mexico’s telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu worth $49 million. His wealth has increased by $19 billion, the biggest one-year advance in a decade. Coming from one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere his wealth comes to 6.3% of its annual economic output. To put this in perspective consider this, if Bill Gates had a similar share in the US he would have been worth $784 billion!!!

India too has its share billionaires in the list. In fact we have the most number of billionaires among all Asian countries with 36 billionaires making the list with their combined wealth at worth a total $191 billion. This has ended Japan’s 20 years old reign at the region’s the top spot. Japan had 24 billionaires with a combined wealth of $64 billion.

Forbes goes on to explain that the world’s rich mainly cashed in on a worldwide boom in equity markets last year to amass its wealth. It also amassed wealth from real estate and commodities markets. They have even announced this as the richest year ever in human history. They go on to claim that such an advance of has never occurred in human history. Advance in what? Nearly a billion people on this planet go to sleep every night without food. If anything the list is a proof of the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

I really admire these billionaires for their ambition, tenacity and hard work. Most of them are not where they are because of their blood line or just because they were born lucky. But these guys also have a commitment to the very society from where they have come up from and found such success. True, most of these guys do donate for charity. But it’s too little and for causes like the cancer research funds and so on. While this is very noble of them how many of the poor or even the middle class is able to afford these cures and treatments. The findings of the research in effect become useful only to the rich.

Please understand that I am not preaching to take from the rich and give to the poor like some modern Robin Hood. Charity will not solve world’s poverty. Education, development of people’s skills, scientific methods in agriculture and above all an opportunity to earn a living are the only solutions to eradicating the plight of a significant percent of our fellow human beings across the world. Maybe some of the billionaires are doing this. But there needs to be more of them joining in the process.

How about this for an idea? Each of these billionaires can take up a small village in a third world country (or maybe their own countries) and set up a small business suitable to the local economic environment there. May be their profit margin might be less. But if it gives jobs to another 25 people it is alleviating their troubles. The billionaire should be happy because these people then will in turn have the money to buy other products and services of the very same billionaires. Or maybe they could help in educating the people in modern scientific farming methods and help them start off.

The billionaires could set up facilities for quality education in those villages and give more opportunities for those who have potential by giving scholarships. For those who are not academically inclined, their other skills and talents should be encouraged so that they too can be a useful member of the society. The government too can play a role of encouraging this by providing adequate support in the form of infrastructure and tax benefits.

Maybe all of this is a utopian dream and the idea suggested is an unrealistic one. But surely there are more intelligent people out there than the author of this post who can come up with more realistic solutions. Whatever it maybe the rest of the world should have an honest commitment to removing poverty. According to recent reports poverty even in US (the country with the most billionaires in the Forbes list) is at its highest in the last 3 decades, and Forbes proclaims humans have advanced more than ever?

The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening day by day. The bloodiest revolutions in the world were as much for bread as for anything else. The byproduct of poverty throughout history has been violence. Unless the word takes notice of this situation, civilization as we know it could plunge into anarchy and decadence.