The Rich Get Richer: 2017 Was Best Year for Billionaires in Recorded History With U.S. Leading the Way

Billionaires around the world enjoyed their most profitable period in recorded history, increasing their wealth by around 20 percent in 2017 as the gap between the super-rich and the rest of humanity continued to widen.

The world’s richest people added $1.4 trillion to their fortunes last year, according to a new report published by Swiss bank UBS and cited by The Guardian. This represents a faster rate of growth than ever before, including the infamous uber-capitalist Gilded Age in the U.S, which produced hugely influential and wealthy family dynasties.

According to the UBS Billionaires 2018 report, a new group of super-elites is emerging. It said the Gilded Age “bred generations of families in the U.S. and Europe who went on to influence business, banking, politics, philanthropy and the arts for more than 100 years. With wealth set to pass from entrepreneurs to their heirs in the coming years, the 21st century multi-generational families are being created.”

The U.S. remains home to the highest number of billionaires, at 585, Business Insider noted. China, though behind at 373, is rapidly closing the gap. Twelve years ago, there were only 16 Chinese billionaires, but now they represent almost 20 percent of the global total. As the report suggested, the “Chinese Century” is progressing well.

There were 2,158 billionaires worldwide last year, UBS said. Of those, 179 were new members of the club, more than 40 of whom inherited their wealth—a situation expected to become more common over the next 20 years due to the number of billionaires over the age of 70.

This trend marks a “major wealth transition,” the report suggested, noting that over the past five years, “the sum passed by deceased billionaires to beneficiaries has grown by an average of 17 percent each year, to reach $117B in 2017.”

The new generation of billionaires, UBS said, “seem highly motivated, committed to their chosen careers, the family business and/or doing social good.” Born in the information age, they “are more willing to take risks” and “have more information and can be more courageous about trying new ideas and being entrepreneurial.”

It might be party time for the super-rich, but in an era of growing inequality this news will do little to comfort the rest of the world. The globe’s richest 1 percent now own around half of the world’s entire wealth, their share having risen from 42.5 percent in 2008, according to a 2017 Credit Suisse report cited by The Guardian.

Humanity’s 3.5 billion poorest citizens, making up some 70 percent of the world’s working population, account for only 2.7 percent of global wealth.

The revelations of the Panama and Paradise Papers, leaked in 2015 and 2017 respectively, shed some light on how the globe’s richest people squirrel away their wealth. Rather than reinvesting and creating jobs as proponents of the widely discredited trickle-down economic theory argue, the super-rich often take money out of national economies and hoard it offshore using tax avoidance loopholes.

The UBS report did contain some good news. Some of the vast fortunes of global billionaires will be given away to charity thanks to the Giving Pledge—a plan launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the world’s second and third richest people. More than 180 people have so far signed up to give up at least half their wealth.

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