In terms of private wealth accumulation, we are truly living in unprecedented times.
Let's travel back in time three decades…
On September 9, 1991, Fortune Magazine published a list of the richest people in the world. At the time, the richest person in the world was Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, AKA the Sultan of Brunei. According to Fortune's estimates, the 45-year-old Sultan was worth $31 billion thanks to his country's overflowing oil and natural gas reserves, plus a global real estate portfolio of assets including the Beverly Hills Hotel which he bought in 1987.
Today, a net worth of $31 billion would barely allow you to crack the top 50 of the richest people in the world.
If you adjust for inflation, the Sultan's $31 billion in 1991 is the same as around $60 billion in today's dollars. A little better, but still not enough to be ranked among the 20 richest people in the world.
The second richest person in the world in 1991 was Walmart founder Sam Walton. In 1991, Fortune estimated Walton's net worth at $21 billion. In 2021, $21 billion would be just barely enough to crack the world's 100 richest people. By the time you get to the 8th, 9th and 10th richest people in the world in 1991, the fortunes have dropped to $6 and $7 billion. It doesn't take much longer to see people with $1 and $2 billion net worths in the top 50.
If you total up the net worths of the 10 richest people on the planet in 1991, their combined fortune came to…
That's 10 people to get to $151 billion.
Perhaps you see where I'm going with this quick history lesson…
As of this writing. As of this very moment. For the first time in human history…. the two richest people in the world have a combined net worth of a half TRILLION dollars.
Obviously, those two people are…
Elon Musk, net worth = $302 billion
Jeff Bezos, net worth = $198 billion
Put em together and, conveniently, you land on exactly…
The New Carnegie & Rockefeller
The only tycoons who compare to Elon and Jeff are Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Andrew Carnegie lived from 1835 to 1919. Rockefeller lived from 1839 to 1937.
John D. Rockefeller was the first modern human being to control over $1 billion in assets. It's generally believed that his peak fortune was in the several billion dollar range. It's somewhat difficult to peg because starting in 1917 he began transferring his assets to family members and his charitable foundation. According to most historical records, after adjusting for inflation and taking into account things like the relative buying power of money 100 years ago, Rockefeller's fortune isequal to around $330 billion modern dollars.
Roughly 30 years before Rockefeller's fortune peaked, Carnegie earned the crown of the richest man in the world after he sold his steel company to J.P. Morgan (the actual man, not the bank) for $480 million in cash. Carnegie spent the next two decades up to his death giving that fortune away pretty much entirely. According to most historical records, Carnegie's peak fortune is equal to around $310 billion modern dollars.
So, as you can see, Carnegie & Rockefeller are not actually a good comparison to Musk & Bezos because the timeline doesn't work out. When Rockefeller's fortune peaked, Carnegie had been dead for about a decade.
We truly are living in crazy times.