Is the world’s first trillionaire alive today?

A trillion is a mind-boggling figure. Despite being spelt just slightly differently from a million or a billion, the vast leap to a trillion, aka a thousand billion, is one that is hard to comprehend fiscally.

To put a trillion in perspective, a million seconds is 11.5 days, a billion seconds is 32 years, but a trillion seconds is 32,000 years.

Alternatively, imagine becoming the proud possessor of a bank account containing a trillion dollars. Nice. But you’d find it pretty hard work spending it all. Even if you spent a million dollars a day, which is no mean feat, it’d take 2,379 years to get through it all, and that’s without all the pesky interest you can expect to earn. Better start investing in cryogenics and wrinkle cream.

John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire in 1916 through his domination of the early petroleum industry. At its height, his wealth made up about 1.5% of the entire US economy.

Economists now estimate that the world’s first trillionaire could materialise within the next 25 years and there could be more than ten of them within 60 years.

According to the annual Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse last year: “Two generations ahead, future extrapolation of current wealth growth rates yields almost a billion millionaires, equivalent to 20% of the total adult population.

“If this scenario unfolds, then billionaires will be commonplace, and there is likely to be a few trillionaires too, eleven according to our best estimate.”

Currently the trend is on course. But what will be the likely spread of wealth distribution?

The Independent’s James Vincent notes recent research by Oxfam, which shows that the wealth of the 1% richest people in the world already amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), roughly 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world.

The charity argues that wealth concentration creates a “vicious circle” of inequality and is becoming a growing threat to political stability.

So who will be the lucky boy, and it will be a boy, to hit the trillion dollar mark first? All eyes are on Bill Gates. Gates has a personal fortune estimated at £72 billion, and the Times notes that “if US national wealth grows at the rate it has in recent decades and if the richest few continue to increase their share of it, [Gates] is on track to hit the target in old age.”

Gates will have to act quickly if he is to make use of his cool trillion. And meanwhile his word processing software will have to catch up - Microsoft Word 2010 doesn’t even recognise the word trillionaire. It’s suggesting “trillion ire”. You’re not in denial are you Bill?


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