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Commentary: Rags to riches to rags

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   March 15, 2013 at 8:07 AM
WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Once a year Forbes publishes "The Definitive Guide to the Richest People on Earth." This year it added 210 new billionaires, including 138 women, worth $5.4 trillion, for a total of 1,426 billionaires.

Since Warren Buffett and Bill Gates launched the Giving Pledge, promising to give away at least half their wealth, 105 billionaires have signed the pledge.

Steve Forbes, the magazine's editor in chief, weighed in with his ritual hosanna in the richest by headlining "THEY SUCCEED" followed in red ink "By Meeting Your Needs." And they almost all have one or several of the 3,500 private jets in the United States.

The top 20 are worth $714 billion, up $80 billion in a year.

Mexico's Carlos Slim Helu is the world's wealthiest man for the fourth consecutive year, with $73 big ones, up $4 billion in a year. Spain's Amancio Ortega displaced Buffett in the No. 3 slot by providing women with low-priced fashion clothes.

The youngest is Dustin Moskovitz, 28, "beating fellow Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg by a week."

Four decades after Communist Vietnam declared victory it produced its first billionaire. Pham Nhat Vuong studied in Moscow and made $1.5 billion selling condos and luxury resorts -- presumably to non-Vietnamese.

Thailand's Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, 68, takes longer than most to sign his name but his Thai beer empire gave him $11.7 billion.

Forbes sees a link between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and "the abandonment of Communism in China " and "the astonishing rises in the global standard of living."

"The Daily Show"'s Jon Stewart, opines Forbes, "should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics" and "revoke the one awarded to the New York Times' Paul Krugman in 2008."

Forbes recognized Stewart because last January "he spooked the idea of the trillion-dollar platinum coin, which had been floated as a way of getting around the ceiling on the nation debt."

Perhaps Stewart should be drafted, suggested Forbes, "to replace Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose monetary policies are doing immense harm to the U.S. and global economies."

Forbes lists the top three as Ortega with $19.5 billion (net worth $57 billion) Buffett with $9.5 billion (net worth $53.5 billion) and Charles Koch with $9 billion in rising refining and chemical profits (net $34 billion).

Almost all the world's 1,426 billionaires are married ("many multiple times"), but Forbes publishes the list of the most eligible -- five multi-billionaires in their 30's and 40's who have never tied the knot.

"From Oligarch to President?" is a Forbes story on Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov who stays in a $35,000-a-night penthouse suite at the top of the Four Seasons hotel in midtown Manhattan, and whose fulltime job is his ambition to succeed Vladimir Putin.

Prokhorov bought the NBA's Brooklyn Nets for $200 million and frequently flies over to watch them play.

In 1995, the wild days of anything-goes-capitalism in Russia, Prokhorov bought control of Norilsk Nickel -- and never looked back.

Forbes' "Prince of Insecurity" article challenged Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal who says he's one of the 10 richest people in the world with $20 billion.

"Forbes doesn't buy it," said the headline. But the Saudi Prince has a palace in Riyadh with 420 rooms and a country weekend hideaway carved out of the desert with five artificial lakes and mini Grand Canyon, five other homes, and his own 747.

Saudi royals don't advertise their wealth and they go to great lengths to operate below Forbes' radar screen. Talal is an exception. He courts publicity and tries to maintain the fiction he's the richest man in the kingdom, the gulf, the Arab world.

Forbes is a welcome change of pace from the depressing daily articles in the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal about the latest rip-offs on Wall Street, London, Zurich and other global financial centers.

There isn't a day without a major financial scandal in the world of democratic capitalism.

This week, a U.S. Senate investigation issued an angry assessment of JPMorgan's $6.2 billion trading loss in 2012 as bank officials concealed losses from investors and federal regulators.

The U.S. Treasury says financial institutions file more than 15 million "suspicious activity reports" every year.

Switzerland was the long-time paradise for the world's gazillionaires -- at one stage tax cheats were willing to fork over a negative interest rate in return for Swiss protection -- but the Swiss gravy train has just been flagged down by a national referendum that spells big trouble.

The Swiss have voted to give shareholders the right to veto the salaries, bonuses and overall pay packages of senior corporate executives and board directors.

Adding insult to injury, no more signing bonuses, golden parachutes or special compensation payouts to executives when their companies are taken over in buyouts,

Violations earn prison for three years and fines of six times yearly compensation.

With the U.S. borrowing 46 cents of every dollar it spends, warn today's Internet doomsayers, there are plenty of Cassandras, scaremongers and Chicken Littles with fancy logos and voiceovers to tell us the end is near.

Breathing from his diaphragm, an authoritative voice told us "we are trapped" and "there is no way out." Or "life as we have lived it for the past 40 years is about to die" and "martial law is coming" because "the savings of millions and retirement funds will soon be wiped out."

There is no law against crying fire in a crowded theater on the Internet.

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