Friday, March 09, 2007

Keeping track of the billionaires...and the living-on-airs.

Guardian Unlimited: Super-Rich Get Richer
Forbes: World's Billionare List
Hindustan Times: U.S. Faulted for Cutting Aid to India
UN World Food Programme: South Africa Braces for Poor Harvests
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Humanitarian Appeal 2007

When Forbes, a business and financial news magazine based in the United States issues its annual tally of the world’s richest, people everywhere take notice. Whether this results from actual interest on the part of the public or only reflects the interest the media expects the public to have is unclear. What is beyond dispute is the saturation this particular news item has achieved, having been featured prominently in hundreds of periodicals from almost every continent. Many reports from around the globe trumpet the inclusion of one—or several—of their own on the list. Africa, the globe’s poorest continent, and Antarctica, the least populated, were comparatively quiet with respect to the billionaire list.

That aside, 2007 is according to Forbes, the “richest year” ever. In addition to the predictable appearance of Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, the list included more women than ever before, as well as unexpectedly large showings by countries like India, Russia, and Turkey. Less surprisingly, the United States boasts the "richest of the mega-rich" by a wide margin. Germany is a distant second, and Russia a surprising third.

Eight hundred and ninety-one people "made" the “World’s Billionaires” list. The top three each boast a net worth exceeding the 2007 UN Humanitarian Appeals Goal of $3.9 billion by more than $35 billion.

For purposes of perspective, it is useful to note other current reports:

***The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued Humanitarian Appeals 2007 in November of 2006, requesting a total of $3.9 billion to help 27 million people in 29 countries.

***UN reports that the countries of Southern Africa are bracing for poor harvests and another year of widespread food shortages.

***U.S. President Bush’s announcement that he will propose a 35% cut in humanitarian aid to India in his budget for FY 2008.

For discussion:
  1. What does an individual’s billionaire status reflect? Is it: A) a testament to his or her ability and luck or, B) is the resulting concentration of capital in one individual a symptom of problems with the market or the economic system as a whole?
  2. Does billionaire status matter? Is it newsworthy? Why or why not?
  3. How do billionaires affect global markets?
  4. Billionaires may in many cases be richer than entire nations in the developing world. Do billionaires have a responsibility to the rest of the globe?

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