Friday, January 11, 2013

But Billionaires Are Doing Better Than Ever

even if it is at the expense of everybody else.

In the United States, blame Congress for this mess. Other countries have similar corrupt legislative bodies that do the bidding of the few at the expense of the many.

The biggest single gainer among the top 100 was Amancio Ortega of Spain, the 76-year-old founder of the Inditex SA retailer, operator of the Zara clothing chain, whose fortune rose from $35.3 billion to $57.5 billion. This vaulted him into third place in the global index, passing American investor Warren Buffett, and trailing only the two who have headed the index for many years: Mexican banking, telecommunications and media mogul Carlos Slim, and Microsoft chief Bill Gates.

Ortega was part of a trend, as retail proprietors among the billionaires showed the biggest gains for the year, up 20 percent. Other retailers include IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, 86, the world’s fifth-richest man, at $42.9 billion; Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com; and the four direct heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.

This increase was all the more remarkable since consumer spending has essentially stagnated since the 2008 Wall Street crash. The retail bosses are increasing their fortunes not so much because sales are rising, as because their smaller competitors are being ruined by the crisis, giving the biggest companies monopoly profits. Bezos, for example, added $6.9 billion to his net worth in 2012, in the wake of the collapse of rival Borders, which led to the elimination of 20,000 jobs.

The divergence between the rising fortunes of the billionaires and the declining living standards of the masses is an essential feature of global capitalism. Nowhere is the contrast starker than in Spain, where Senor Ortega, the founder of Inditex and its 1,600 Zara stores, increased his fortune by $22.2 billion in the course of 2012.

It's called grand larceny, not "merit."

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