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Don Burleson Blog 








The Billionaire next door

Observations by Donald Burleson

Also see my related  notes on the Net Present Value of undergraduate grades towards law school tuition and the improved earnings power of a university education.

New Billionaires are popping-up everywhere

As the net present value of wealth declines over time, more and more people will enter the ranks of "well to do", wealthy folks who have lots of disposable income.  But what is "rich" really?  Do we count the values of assets only, or is cash liquidity the measure of a billionaire?

Below, we see that there are currently a half-million millionaires in the USA (one out of every 200 citizens!), and 363 billionaires in the United States.


I was watching TV the other night and recognized the name of one of my old classmates from Highland High School in Albuquerque.  Normally, this happens when one of my classmates has been charged with a serious felony, but I was surprised to hear that my high school classmate Gavin Maloof (Highland High class of 1974) is now a billionaire, and he owns the Palms casino in Las Vegas.  Here are our Highland High School yearbook pictures, and we were both stylish in our long quaffs:

  Don Burleson Gavin Maloof

As I recall, Gavin's parents owned one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, the Coors beer distribution rights for the hard-drinking citizens of New Mexico.  (BTW, New Mexico is listed in "The Fatal fifteen" for alcohol-related traffic deaths, and people in New Mexico are nearly twice as likely to die in an alcohol-related traffic accidents).

Gavin was a class clown, and I see that he still has a great sense of humor, as shown here where he offers-up a $6,000 dinner at the Hardees in the Palms casino.  The $6k dinner consists of a a greasy cheeseburger served with a bottle of rare 24 year-old French wine (fries are extra).  I think that our 40th High School class reunion is going to be a hoot. . . .

But this got me to thinking about the dilution of the status of being a "millionaire" in America today and how someone must be a billionaire in order to be considered wealthy.  Let's take a closer look at the title of "millionaire" and "billionaire" in America.

The dynamics of wealth in the USA

Back in the 1960's, being a millionaire was a remarkable achievement, especially when you consider the prices, back when the minimum wage was only a dollar an hour and you could buy a nice house for $10k:

1960's                        Value
Average yearly Salary         $8,000
Minimum Wage                  $1.00
Gasoline                      $0.32
New Home cost                 $15,000

Back in the 1960's, the title of "millionaire" was way out of reach for most folks, with only 100,000 millionaires, but the times, they are a' changin'.  This research shows the value of a million dollars in the past and a count of USA millionaires by decade and the trend suggests that the number of millionaires in America will double every decade:

Current studies show that in 2015, one-out-of every 200 people Americans is a millionaire and it's expected that one-out-of-10 people will be millionaires within the next decade! 

J. P. Getty once said, "A billion dollars is not what it used to be", and it's true.  As we see below, it would have taken 6 million dollars in the 1960's to equal a million dollars in 2002:


Of course, the 2015 economic landscape is quite different than the 1960's, and inflation has helped make millionaire-hood almost commonplace. 

This survey on millionaires suggests that in 2005 there were about 9 million millionaires (in total assets, excluding their primary home value), with the bulk of millionaires living in the USA.  It's the same for counts of billionaires:

Area              Millionaires     Billionaires
USA               2.7 million         371
Europe            2.8 million         196
Asia              2.4 million         140
Australia         0.4 million           7
South America     0.3 million          23
Canada            0.3 million          46
Africa            0.1 million           6

With about 3 million millionaires in the USA's population of 300 million people, that's one percent of the total U.S. population! 

Statistically, almost one out of every 100 Americans is a millionaire!

The real estate Millionaire

People is the USA are guaranteed the "pursuit of happiness" and Americans love to compete and show-off their prosperity with their collections of material goods.  As of 2015, the median home cost in America is over a quarter million dollars and a condo in New York city costs well over a million dollars.  I wonder, how long will it be until see see billboards like this?


Millionaires for the next generation

Janet and I have two kids (Andy and Jenny) who are now College seniors, planning their entry into expensive professional schools.  Like many parents of college kids, we are trying to figure-out how to cough-up the cash for their tuition without moving into a single-wide trailer.

Ah, but is it worth it to spend a small fortune on junior's college education?  The studies say yes, but only if junior agrees to support their parents in a lavish lifestyle.

In the article "Lifetime Earnings Soar with Education: Masters degree worth $2.5 million income over a lifetime" we see that a 24 year-old MBA can expert to earn about 2 million dollars in their working life.

In my own research on the projected earnings of newly-minted professionals, we see that those who earn professional degrees (Medicine, Law) can expert to earn about $4.3 million dollars during their careers.

In sum, it appears that all professionals in the mid-21st century will eventually become millionaires, and we can expect the percentage of millionaires to increase from 3% of the population in 2015 to about 20% of the U.S. population  by the year 2050.

The Billionaire next door

As of 2015 there are over 600 billionaires, with the ranks of the super-rich growing every day.   After all, the step-up from millionaire to billionaire is only three orders of magnitude (1,000), requiring only one thousand, million-dollar chunks.

Have you ever noticed that foreign countries define "billion" different from the USA and the scientific community?  It's very weird that foreign countries have a different definition of billion, and in Europe, you need to have the equivalent of a trillion dollars to become a billionaire:

Wealth U.S. & scientific groups Foreign countries
$1,000 thousand thousand
$1,000,000 million million
$1,000,000,000 billion 1,000 million
$1,000,000,000,000 trillion billion
$1,000,000,000,000,000 quadrillion 1,000 billion
$1,000,000,000,000,000,000 quintillion trillion

The first trillionaire?

Ever wonder when we will see the first trillionaire?  With Bill Gates at 80 billion in 2006, and accounting for inflation and the time value of money, I expect that we will see the first trillionaire in about 2038.




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