A Billion Yuan: The Rise of China's Ultra-Rich by Kimaya Basu C'21 W'21

With each passing week in 2017, China produced two new billionaires on average according to BBC News.  According to a report supplied by Swiss bank UBS and auditing firm PwC, there was a net increase of Chinese billionaires from 318 to 373 last year as more joined the ranks of the outrageously wealthy than left the list (106 joined, 51 left).  This group of Chinese billionaires were associated with a combined wealth of $1.12 trillion last year. Globally, nearly one in five billionaires now is Chinese.

Add up the wealth of all of the world’s billionaires in 2017, and it translates into $8.9 trillion in wealth for 2,158 people.  That translates into $4.1 billion per billionaire. The combined wealth of this group rose from $7.5 trillion to $8.9 trillion last year, representing a rate of growth approaching 19 percent.

As an indication of both the entrepreneurial vitality and scale of the Chinese economy, among China’s billionaires, 97 percent were self-made, with many working in technology or retail.  Given the general tendency of wealth to become increasingly disparate across the world, the expansion in the numbers of billionaires and millionaires has accompanied greater inequality. The gap between the earnings of the top 1 percent and everybody else is at its widest globally in thirty years according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.  In the United States, the top 10 percent earns 16.5 times more than the bottom 10 percent. In the United Kingdom, the corresponding multiple is 9.6 while in Mexico it is 30.5. This doesn’t necessarily imply that the poor are getting poorer, but it does mean that the wealth of the already wealthier is growing much more rapidly. The wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population owns 50.1 percent of the world’s wealth.  In 2001, the corresponding share was 45.5 percent.


The Americas remain home to the largest number of billionaires, but there number expanded by a moderate 53 in 2017 compared to 87 five years ago.  In Western Europe, the number of billionaires expanded by 17.

The world has also experienced a significant rise in the number of millionaires.  In 2017, the U.S. recorded the most with 15.3 million millionaires, with translates into about 5 percent of the nation’s population.  Japan was second with 2.7 million millionaires. The United Kingdom housed 2.2 million millionaires with China following with perhaps a surprisingly low 1.9 million millionaires.

The number of billionaires and millionaires in China is unlikely to rise as rapidly going forward, at least in the near-term.  In part due to an ongoing trade skirmish with the Americans, Chinese equity markets have been routed. Available information indicate that 400 of China’s wealthiest individuals have lost vast sums of money.

Perhaps the next major sources of billionaires will be India and/or Indonesia.  In 2017, India’s billionaires tally expanded from 19 to 119 while collective billionaire wealth rose 36 percent.  In Indonesia, there are 20 billionaires, with their total wealth growing by 37 percent last year. Should China lose global production market share due to its faltering relations with the U.S., entrepreneurs in India and Indonesia may be in line to pick up much of the slack.  These nations benefit from large, youthful populations, rapid urbanization, and sizeable, disruptive technology communities.