"The richest year in human history"
That's according to Steve Forbes, whose magazine takes the trouble to list the world's wealthiest people every year. (Hey, somebody's gotta do it.) This year marked a huge jump in the number of billionaires: 946, up from 793 last year. Collectively they've amassed a fortune of over $3.5 trillion, though it's not just the rich who are getting richer: in an interview with the BBC, Forbes claimed that "the global economy in real terms expanded over 25%" last year, adding that "never in history has there been such an advance."
So who tops the list? Bill Gates, of course, with $56 billion to his name, but his lead is pretty slim; a mere $4 billion more than the net worth of self-made mogul Warren Buffet. Other 'naires include Mexican industrialist Carlos Slim ($49 billion), Indian Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal ($32 billion) and Virgin CEO Richard Branson ($3.8 billion). Asian and Russian entrepreneurs continue to climb the exclusive ranks, and this year the first billionaires from Serbia and Romania made the list. Oprah Winfrey and Harry Potter scribbler J.K. Rowling also made the list, making them two of the world's wealthiest women. Of course, their fortunes don't hold a candle to those of Alice L. and Helen Kemper Robson Walton, the daughter and widow of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, respectively, who each are estimated to be worth about $18 billion.