A review of Plutocrats: The Rise Of The Global Super-Rich And The Fall Of Everyone Else by former Financial Times deputy editor Chrystia Freeland.
Who is the richest person to have lived? Given the impossibility of comparing chariots with private jets, this is an absurd question. But it is still one economists have sought to answer, with perhaps the best measure – as defined by Adam Smith – based on annual income as a multiple of the average wage of fellow citizens.
Their answer is not Marcus Crassus, whose fortune was the same size as the entire government treasury of the Roman Empire. His annual return was paltry for a plutocrat, equating to the average yearly income of 32,000 Romans. Nor was it those robber barons of the Gilded Age – Andrew Carnegie, whose wealth peaked in 1901, took home the same as 48,000 typical Americans while John D Rockefeller’s vast riches yielded an annual income equal to 116,000 of his countrymen.
The wealth of these figures from history pales in comparison with the strutting financiers of Wall Street, the geeky billionaires of Silicon Valley and the grisly oligarchs who plundered Russia. Trumping them all is Carlos Slim, the telecoms tycoon whose £53bn fortune is equal to that of an incredible 400,000 of his fellow Mexicans. Read More