The new global rich list causes particular worry for India
India added 51 billionaires in 2021 and now has the third most billionaires in the world, even as the poorest Indians saw their incomes vanish and 230 million were pushed into poverty.
A new global rich list released this week showed once again that during the pandemic the super-rich have added considerably to their already considerable wealth. The ‘2022 Hurun Global Rich List, released by the UK based research group Hurun notes that the world now has 3,381 billionaires, the highest ever tally according to the report.
The rate at which new billionaires are being created is staggering. In the last five years, the number of billionaires has grown by about 50 percent, according to Hurun. In 2021 alone, 153 billionaires were added to the list at a rate of 3 new billionaires a week.
The richest person in the world is Elon Musk, with a total wealth of $205 billion, followed by Jeff Bezos at $188 billion. Of the top 10 billionaires in the world, seven are from the United States of America, two are from France, and one from India. All are men.
Overall, China now accounts for the most billionaires in the world at 1,133, followed by the USA at 716. India takes the third spot with 215 billionaires. Over the last decade, the number of Indian billionaires has doubled every five years.
India added 51 billionaires just in 2021, even as much of the country saw their incomes decline because of the economic impacts of COVID-19. In fact, among the 10 nations with the most billionaires in the world, India stands out as the only poor country, reflecting how inequality has grown in the country.
The per capita income in parts of India is among the lowest in the world. Bihar, for instance, has an annual per capita income of $425, which is about $1.2 a day.
It would take the average person from Bihar over forty-seven million years to add to their wealth the $20 billion that the richest Indian, Mukesh Ambani, added to his wealth in 2021. That is if all the earned income was to go towards wealth accumulation, which will obviously not be the case.
The rise of Gautam Adani, known for his close association with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is even more astonishing. In the last ten years, he has seen his wealth rise by 1830 percent. In 2021, Adani’s wealth more than doubled from $32 billion to $81 billion, the highest increase for any billionaire in the world. He is now the 12th richest man in the world.
The fortunes of India’s billionaires are starkly different from the fortunes of most Indians in the last two years. A recent report showed that the incomes of the poorest twenty percent of Indians reduced by 53 percent in 2020-21 compared to their income levels in 2015-16. India accounts for about 60 percent of the global rise in poverty in 2020.
Another report estimated that 230 million Indians – thats about half the population of the European Union – were pushed into poverty during the pandemic. The poorest 20 percent of Indians lost their entire incomes in April and May 2020, when the world’s harshest lockdown was imposed without adequate social and economic relief measures.
India’s GDP shrunk by about 6.6 percent in 2020-21, even as the wealth of the billionaires continued to grow. Millions of Indians have lost their jobs in the last two years. During the devastating second wave of COVID-19, 10 million people were rendered unemployed.
India’s economy and the average Indian have suffered a more severe economic blow because of the pandemic than in most parts of the world. That’s partly because India had already been on a slowing growth trajectory pre-COVID-19 as demonetisation caused devastating impacts across the economy. That was followed by the botched implementation of the central goods and services tax that affected businesses.
It’s also because the Indian government did not take adequate measures during the pandemic to provide support to the economy. The government’s fiscal stimulus was among the stingiest in the world and was paired with the most stringent lockdown in the world.
But, India’s super-rich have benefited greatly during the pandemic.