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September 2010

How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World and How We Can Take It Back

(published in the US under the title BILLIONAIRES' BALL:
Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality)

The glittering lives of billionaires may seem like a harmless source of entertainment. But such concentrated economic power reverberates throughout society, threatening the quality of life and the very functioning of democracy. It's no accident that the United States claims the most billionaires – but suffers among the highest rates of infant mortality and crime, the shortest life expectancy, as well as the lowest rates of social mobility and electoral political participation in the developed world.

Our society tends to regard large fortunes as evidence of great talent or accomplishment. Yet the vast new wealth isn't due to an increase in talent or effort at the top, but rather to changing social attitudes legitimizing greed and government policy changes that favour the new elite. Authoritative and eye-opening, The Trouble With Billionaires will spark debate about the kind of society we want.

From The Trouble With Billionaires...

Imagine this: you are given one dollar every second.

At that rate, after one minute, you would have 60 dollars. After twelve days, you would be a millionaire – something beyond the wildest dreams of most people on Earth.

But how long would it take to become a billionaire?

Well, at that rate, it would take almost 32 years.

Being a billionaire isn't just beyond the wildest dreams of most people on Earth, it's likely beyond their comprehension.

Another way to grasp the sheer size of the fortunes of billionaires is to imagine how long it would take Bill Gates, generally considered the world's richest man, to count his $53 billion fortune. If he counted it at the same rate – one dollar every second – and he counted non-stop day and night, he would have it all counted in 1,680 years.

Or another way to look at it: if Bill Gates had started counting his fortune at that rate back in 330 AD – the same year the Roman emperor Constantine had his wife boiled alive and chose Byzantium as the Empire's new capital – he would just be finishing up now.

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