Forbes Magazine has issued its new list of the world’s wealthiest people and like the markets and economies many have stalled and crashed.

Forbes latest list has the number of the world’s billionaires slipping from 1,125 a year ago, to 793, while their average wealth has dropped 23% to $US3 billion on average: poor dears.

Forbes said its list of billionaires was $US1.4 trillion richer last year: by most forecasts that’s less than half the losses we have seen from banks around the world and other groups in the past 18 months.

The IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank see economic growth this year across the world turning negative for the first time in 80 years; they also see some of the world’s poorest countries being so badly hurt by the slump that their finances won’t recover for decades, and their people face years of declining or static living standards.

Forbes said the global turmoil had meant many new billionaires from Russia, India and other emerging economies were no longer in the top echelon; meaning the US has climbed back on top. And that is from a country that not only started the whole crisis and financial disaster, but which is running up debts it expects the rest of the world to pay.

Forbes writes:

The U.S. is regaining its dominance as a repository of wealth. Americans account for 44% of the money and 45% of the list’s slots, up seven and three percentage points from last year, respectively.

Bill Gates lost $18 billion but regained his title as the world’s richest man.

Warren Buffett, last year’s No. 1, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway fell nearly 50% in 12 months.

Mexican telecom titan Carlos Slim Helú maintains his spot in the top three but lost $25 billion.

The absence of irony or reflection on the damage wrought by many of America’s banks, politicians and business leaders on Wall Street on their country and the rest of the world from the Forbes report was embarrassing.

According to the Asian Development bank, around $US50 trillion in value has been destroyed so far: about equal to a year’s output from all the world’s economies.

The Bank Of England estimates $US3 trillion in losses from banks having to mark their investments down to market prices, that’s about a year’s output from the UK economy, or three times Australia’s GDP.

The ADB estimated that more than $US9 trillion in value has been destroyed in Asia, with big hits being felt among the newly rich of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and the more established wealth in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, not to mention Hong Kong. The poor in Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Papua New Guinea and Africa will also feel the pain more deeply.

The losses are more than just very rich people being reduced to the ranks of just “rich”.

Forbes Inc. CEO Steve Forbes said at a press conference overnight for the launch of the 2008 global billionaires edition that while few would shed a tear for the plight of a billionaire, it was bad for the economy when entrepreneurs were in trouble.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey