The 2013 Forbes Billionaires list now boasts 1,426 names, with an aggregate net worth of $5.4 trillion, up from $4.6 trillion. We found 210 new ten-figure fortunes. Once again the U.S. leads the list with 442 billionaires, followed by Asia-Pacific (386), Europe (366), the Americas (129) and the Middle East & Africa (103).
The US has a population of 312 million.
In per capita terms, the US lags behind several smaller states.
Here’s the top 10 (number of billionaires/estimated population):
1. Monaco (3/35,427)
2. St. Kitts and Nevis (1/53,051)
3. Guernsey (1/65,573)
4. Hong Kong (39/7.1 million)
5. Belize (1/356,600)
6. Cyprus (3/1.1 million)
7. Israel (17/7.8 million)
8. Singapore (10/5.2 million)
9. Kuwait (5/2.8 million)
10. Switzerland (13/7.9 million)
12. Sweden (14 billionaires, population 9.56 million)
But one country stands out on the list: Sweden.
How does a famously socialist and left-wing country like Sweden get so many billionaires ?
Why are billionaries a good sign ? Because usually they created a great company
That’s because a billionaire isn’t just a guy with a well-paying job. Although someone like Tiger Woods will likely become a billionaire by making about $100 million per year for 20 years.
(Almost always) To reach that level of stratospheric riches, you probably either need to start a big, successful company or else inherit one from someone who did. And however much people care about inequality, almost every place on Earth would like to be the kind of place where successful new firms are born and raised. The good news about Sweden is that it’s exactly that kind of place. High taxes go to finance cheap health care and education, an excellent system of public transportation, and relatively generous subsidies to low-income households that keep the poverty rate and inequality low. But they haven’t stopped Swedish entrepreneurs from building giant firms like H&M, Ikea, and Tetra Pak.
The Scandinavian success stories show that great companies can be born and innovate amid generous welfare states, they do have some cautionary tales for left-wing thinking. The Swedish tax code was substantially reformed in 1990 to be friendlier toward capital accumulation, with a flat rate on investment income. Sweden has no taxes on inheritance or residential property, and its 22 percent corporate income tax rate is far lower than America’s 35 percent. Even after spending cuts by the current center-right government, the Swedish public sector is still about half the total economy (much higher than here), but the taxes that finance it fall more heavily on consumption and less on business investment than in the U.S.
Sweden also has a relatively lightly regulated economy. There are rules about public health and environmental protection, of course. But Sweden is arguably further down the neoliberal path of dismantling purely economic regulations than the U.S. In Stockholm, for example, taxi fares are completely unregulated and for-profit charter schools are common. All things considered, international surveys rank Sweden as a place where it’s easy to do business. Within the U.S., surveys show that licensing rules rather than tax rates are the main driver of local business-friendliness.
If you have a high income tax rate but low corporate, property and capital gains taxes and light regulations for other aspects of business then you can still generate a lot of billionaires.