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According to the 2016 Forbes Billionaires List, the aggregate wealth of the world's 1,810 billionaires is approximately $6.5 trillion, exceeding the GDP of Japan, the world's third largest economy with a GDP of $4.4 trillion. In other words, the wealth of 0.00002% of the world's population accounts for 9 percent of the world's GDP of about $74 trillion.

How do we measure the net worth of a billionaire? The estimate is based on total asset value, including stakes in public and private companies, real estate, yachts, art and cash. If a person were a country, we'd measure GDP, which is commonly defined as the sum of the final uses of goods and services (excluding intermediate consumption) measured at purchasers’ prices, less the total value of imported goods and services. Based on this net worth-GDP comparison, we can draw the following comparisons from the Forbes 2016 data:

  • Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, has a net worth of $75 billion. Gates' net worth is greater than the GDP of 122 countries. If he were to liquidate all of his assets, Gates could purchase all of the final goods and services supplied by Myanmar in a single year.
  • Following the same logic, America's billionaires could chip in their combined assets in exchange for the annual production of goods and services in India.  

The United States is home to the largest number of billionaries (540 persons), accounting for 30 percent of the world's billionaires and 37 percent, or $2.4 trillion, of the group's aggregate wealth. The net worth of America's billionaires represents a remarkable 12 percent of US GDP. The next five countries by the number of billionaires are China (251), Germany (120), India (84), Russia (77) and Hong Kong (64). Compared to Forbes' survey one year ago, China demonstrated the largest gain in billionaries, adding 38 new billionaires to the ranking. If this trend continues, China will have more billionaires than the United States in 7 to 8 years.

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