How rich are the rich? According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018, 42 million people (.8% of the world population) own 44.8% of total wealth. Add in the next richest 8.7% of population and now less than 10% of world population has over 84% of the wealth. The bottom 63.9% of population share 1.9% of wealth.
Most of the wealthiest billionaires in the world come from the U.S., and a little less than 20 percent are in the tech industry, according to Forbes. Of the wealthiest, 1,186 people are defined as self-made millionaires; 228 inherited their fortunes and 396 inherited at least a part of their wealth, as reported by The Guardian.
So, how did these people get to be so wealthy? It is clear that there was a huge amount of hard work, discipline, clear goals, ambition and guts. But is that enough to get into the billion-dollar club? You probably know many people with these traits yet they are nowhere near to becoming billionaires. One common trait, though, is that almost all owned and then sold stock in their own company or one of their relatives did.
That said, there are lots of people who sold their company’s stock who did not become billionaires. So, what made the one percenters so rich? There is no single answer. Yet one possibility is outlined in Malcom Gladwell´s book: “Outliers.” Outliers are people who find themselves far above average in their respective fields, like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. They are hard-working, determined geniuses, who had the right abilities and found themselves with the right opportunities at exactly the right times. Luck?
An interesting question is: What would have happened if Steve Jobs had been born 30 years earlier? Even with his amazing creativity and sense of design, could he have been able to apply his genius in the field that he came to dominate? The industry itself did not exist and from a technological perspective, would not for another 20 years. Alternatively, what if he would have been born 20 years later? He would have been too late to an already crowded field. Timing is everything.
This does not have to be the end of the story. Although it is not obvious what abilities will be needed and when the next opportunities to become rich will arise, there is something societies can do. We can assist employees to understand and access the process of becoming financially stable. Employees can become owners of shares in the businesses where they work. Moreover, there are profit-sharing mechanisms available to employers through which employees have the incentive to perform better over the short and medium term as well as over the long term. It’s simply a win-win.
The best incentive, we think, is to allow employees to own a share of the company through a mechanism known as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). That way, employees work as if they own the company, and it just so happens that they do own some or all of it.
Among the many ESOP benefits are: 1) often additional retirement plans; and 2) productivity increases, on average about 4-5 percent more than companies not owned by employees. No, ESOP´s won’t make us billionaires. But they are a fine way to make more capitalists and improve the economy.
John Hoffmire is Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty. He also holds the Carmen Porco Chair of Sustainable Business at the Center. Mario Alejandro Mercado Mendoza, Hoffmire’s colleague at the Center, did the research for this article.