In a Millionaire’s Shoes

There is an old saying that the “rich get richer.” It is far easier to amass a fortune from a million dollars than it is from a few thousand dollars, although that’s not impossible either.

 But once upon a time, not too long ago, a million dollars in net worth was considered a significant sum and represented social status referred to as the “Millionaires’ Club.” But times have changed. That was then and this is now. It is the new millennium, and a million dollars is no longer worth a glance.

 The trend of the number of millionaires in the United States is growing. According to a recent report produced by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch & Co., there are more millionaires in North America than there are in any other region in the world. In 2004, the number of U.S. millionaires surged by nearly 10% to 2.5 million. The total number of millionaires in North America (including Canada) is 2.7 million, versus 2.6 million and 2.3 million for Europe and Asia-Pacific.

 Take a look at the 2004 Forbes 400 list of the 400 richest people in the world. Sorry, I’m not on it. To be considered for the list, the minimum cut-off is set at a whopping $750 million in net worth! More amazing is that 312 on the list have accumulated at least $1 billion in net worth.

 When industrial mogul Howard Hughes died in 1976, he left a fortune valued at about $2 billion. That was considered big money back then, but on the Forbes 400 list, it would rank Mr. Hughes tied for 106th place (not counting the present value of Mr. Hughes’ fortune, of course).

 Who are these modern mega-rich?

 Tech innovators have surfaced in recent years and currently make up about 23% or 92 of the Forbes 400. The software sector has 23 on the list, while the dot-com types account for 15. And, while it took Mr. Hughes a lifetime to accumulate his wealth, the road to current money stardom has been rapid.

 Leading the mega-rich, Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ/MSFT) continues to hold on to his number one billing (nine straight years since 1996) with a net worth estimated at $48 billion–about $7 billion ahead of stock market guru Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway. But poor Bill is well down from his astounding $85 billion reached in 1999 during the tech revolution.

 Now, the combined net worth of the richest people in the U.S. listed on the Forbes 400 has now surpassed the $1 trillion mark for the first time in history–up a whopping $45 billion over the prior year. Let’s look at it from another angle. The combined net worth of these wealthy people exceeds the Gross National Product of 219 countries! In fact, only 10 countries have a GDP that exceeds the combined wealth of this group. The U.S. GDP is tops at $10.40 trillion.

 Here is another way of looking at the colossal wealth of the U.S. privileged class. The U.S. national debt currently sits at about $7.80 trillion. These mega rich people could slash about 13% of the national debt by donating their combined fortunes to the government. Fat chance that will happen!

 Hey, they may be rich, but, as the saying goes, “Are they happy?” Surveys suggest that the rich are not a happy group. Here’s what I say. Let me walk in their designer shoes for a day to see if that wealth can bring happiness first-hand.