Three of the world’s richest people have achieved staggering new levels of personal wealth.
The net worth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos eclipsed US$200 billion on Wednesday as shares of the e-commerce giant climbed to a record. The move simultaneously pushed his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, 50, to the brink of becoming the world’s richest woman, just behind L’Oreal SA heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers.
Elon Musk, meanwhile, extended an extraordinary stretch of wealth gains to become a centibillionaire. Tesla Inc. shares rallied Wednesday, pushing his net worth to US$101 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a listing of the world’s 500 richest people.
The gains by Bezos, 56, and Musk represent just the latest high water mark for wealth accumulation in a topsy-turvy year defined by both surging markets and catastrophic human and economic loss. The world’s 500 richest people have gained US$809 billion so far this year, a 14 per cent increase since January, even as a global pandemic caused a record drop in gross domestic product and millions of lost jobs.
The rising income inequality has provoked sharp responses from many progressive politicians and critics on the left. US Senator Bernie Sanders earlier this month introduced legislation to tax ‘extreme’ wealth gains during the coronavirus crisis.
“We cannot continue to allow billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to become obscenely rich while millions of Americans face eviction, hunger and economic desperation,” Sanders said Wednesday in a statement. “It’s time to fundamentally change our national priorities.”
Others view their massive wealth as justified, saying they’ve earned it through the creation of singular businesses.
The surge in wealth is especially concentrated in the upper ranks of the billionaires index and has been fuelled largely by tech stocks, which have been on a tear as the pandemic drives more people online. That also includes a rise in the number of retail investors buying stocks.