Commentary: Who will be the world’s first trillionaire?


Jeff Bezos, for instance, at the time of this writing the world’s second-richest man with US$177 billion, is no longer running Amazon and seems to spend a lot of time in the gym. Not to take away anything from his talents, but he has no obvious path to a trillion dollars, even if his rocket company Blue Origin is a huge success.

Family life can also affect wealth accumulation. Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, among many others, are all divorced, which reduced their wealth. The Walmart fortune is now spread among the many heirs of founder Sam Walton.

Charitable giving and projects are another reason why wealth does not accumulate indefinitely. Gates very admirably has given away much of his wealth to the Gates Foundation, with more donations likely. That limits his ability to reach trillionaire status.

It’s worth noting that billionaires don’t give away money simply because they’re altruistic. If you have scores of billions of dollars, the social capital you get from giving it away is often worth more than the private consumption you are forgoing; in fact it is hard to spend that much money, much less spend it well, over the course of a lifetime. So for the super rich, giving away some of their money maximises well-being even if it lowers financial wealth.

Sometimes the projects aren’t charity per se – but they’re not purely financial, either. Musk, whose US$222 billion makes him the wealthiest person in the world, spent US$44 billion to buy Twitter, now X. He seems to want to own Twitter to influence political and cultural discourse. Now Twitter is worth much less than what Musk paid for it, making it that much harder for him to become a trillionaire.

So maybe there is not much obvious personal benefit to becoming a trillionaire. If anything, it might make a person a political target.

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