In a lament that sounded a lot like "Where's the money?" Britain was singled out yesterday as a leading power with fewer super-rich individuals in its midst than might be expected, with its taxation laws a main culprit.
Releasing the latest Forbes world billionaire's list, the magazine's publisher, Steve Forbes, labelled Britain's 50 per cent tax rate for top earners as "ridiculous". He then expressed his disdain for the Government's assertion that the new rate affects only a slender group of people. "You are making sure you only have a few people who make it into that bracket because of the policies you are pursuing," he declared.
With Mexico's mobile phone tycoon Carlos Slim Helu leading the list with $74bn (£45.6bn) of personal worth and Bill Gates occupying second position with $56bn, the pecking order of world's richest individuals has not changed at the very top. It has grown much longer, however – 1140 people compared to 937 a year ago – with the so-called "Bric" nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China contributing more names than ever before. Add the fortunes of all the billionaires on the planet together and you come out with a record $4.5tr, which is a bit larger than the gross domestic product of Germany. More than 200 people have joined the list for the first time and there are more women too, up to 102 from 89 last year.
The latest roster of the rich "reflects the extraordinary changes taking place in the global economy," Mr Forbes suggested. While the Bric quartet and some countries in Asia-Pacific (not including Japan) are taking more spots on the list this year, there is stasis or even retreat in Europe and the United States. Germany had one less billionaire this year, though largely because two of last year's contingent died.
While a decade ago half of all billionaires lived and built their fortunes in the US, today it's only one in three. Most of those, meanwhile, are concentrated in California and especially Silicon Valley – there are five Facebook executives on the list – and also in New York where no fewer than 67 billionaires reside, according to Forbes.
First to appear on the list from the UK is the Duke of Westminister. Other familiar British names were Sir Richard Branson, Philip & Cristina Green and David and Frederick Barclay.