The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution
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The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution

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The Richest People in Human History - Part 1

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The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution

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When we think of wealth today, we often think of the massive personal fortunes of business magnates like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffett. However, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that measuring wealth by one’s bank account has been a norm for the world’s richest.

For most of recorded human history, in fact, the lines around wealth were quite blurred. Leaders like Augustus Caesar or Emperor Shenzong had absolute control of their empires—while bankers like Jakob Fogger and Cosimo de Medici were often found pulling the strings from behind.

This infographic we created with Texas Precious Metals focuses on the richest people in history up until the Industrial Revolution, and it highlights key facts and anecdotes on how they created their wealth.

Is This List of People Definitive?

While it is certainly fun to speculate on the wealth of people from centuries past, putting together this list is exceptionally difficult and certainly not definitive.

Here’s why:

Firstly, much wealth in early periods is tied to land (Genghis Khan) or entire empires (Augustus, Akbar), which makes calculations extremely subjective. What is most of Asia’s land worth in the year 1219? What separates personal fortune from the riches of an empire that one has full control of? There are a wide variety of answers to these questions, and they all influence the figures chosen to be represented.

Secondly, records kept from Ancient eras are scarce, exaggerated, or based on legends and oral histories. Think of King Solomon or Mansa Musa—these are characters described as immeasurably rich, so trying to put their wealth in modern context is fun, but certainly not guaranteed to be historically accurate.

Lastly, wealth and conversion rates can be approached in different ways as well. Take Crassus in the Roman Republic, who had a peak fortune of “200 million sesterces”. Well, that’s a problem for us in modernity, because that stash could be worth anywhere from $200 million to $169.8 billion, depending on how calculations are done.

So, enjoy this list of the wealthiest historical figures, but keep in mind that it is mostly for fun—and that the list of the richest people in history may change depending on who you ask!

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization (2022)

From the wealth held to billionaires to all debt in the global financial system, we look at the vast universe of money and markets in 2022.

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

The era of easy money is now officially over.

For 15 years, policymakers have tried to stimulate the global economy through money creation, zero interest-rate policies, and more recently, aggressive COVID fiscal stimulus.

With capital at near-zero costs over this stretch, investors started to place more value on cash flows in the distant future. Assets inflated and balance sheets expanded, and money inevitably chased more speculative assets like NFTs, crypto, or unproven venture-backed startups.

But the free money party has since ended, after persistent inflation prompted the sudden reversal of many of these policies. And as Warren Buffett says, it’s only when the tide goes out do you get to see “who’s been swimming naked.”

Measuring Money and Markets in 2022

Every time we publish this visualization, our common unit of measurement is a two-dimensional box with a value of $100 billion.

Even though you need many of these to convey the assets on the balance sheet of the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the private wealth held by the world’s billionaires, it’s quite amazing to think what actually fits within this tiny building block of measurement:

What fits in a $100 billion box?

Our little unit of measurement is enough to pay for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, while also buying every team in the NHL and digging FTX out of its financial hole several times over.

Here’s an overview of all the items we have listed in this year’s visualization:

Asset categoryValueSourceNotes
SBF (Peak Net Worth)$26 billionBloombergNow sits at <$1B
Pro Sports Teams$340 billionForbesMajor pro teams in North America
Cryptocurrency$760 billionCoinMarketCapPeaked at $2.8T in 2021
Ukraine GDP$130 billionWorld BankComparable to GDP of Mississippi
Russia GDP$1.8 trillionWorld BankThe world's 11th largest economy
Annual Military Spending$2.1 trillionSIPRI2021 data
Physical currency$8.0 trillionBIS2020 data
Gold$11.5 trillionWorld Gold CouncilThere are 205,238 tonnes of gold in existence
Billionaires$12.7 trillionForbesSum of fortunes of all 2,668 billionaires
Central Bank Assets$28.0 trillionTrading EconomicsFed, BoJ, Bank of China, and Eurozone only
S&P 500$36.0 trillionSlickchartsNov 20, 2022
China GDP$17.7 trillionWorld Bank
U.S. GDP$23.0 trillionWorld Bank
Narrow Money Supply$49.0 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Broad Money Supply $82.7 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Global Equities$95.9 trillionWFELatest available 2022 data
Global Debt$300.1 trillionIIFQ2 2022
Global Real Estate$326.5 trillionSavills2020 data
Global Private Wealth$463.6 trillionCredit Suisse2022 report
Derivatives (Market)$12.4 trillionBIS
Derivatives (Notional)$600 trillionBIS

Has the Dust Settled Yet?

Through previous editions of our All the World’s Money and Markets visualization, we’ve created snapshots of the world’s assets and markets at different points in time.

For example, in our 2017 edition of this visualization, Apple’s market capitalization was only $807 billion, and all crypto assets combined for $173 billion. The global debt total was at $215 trillion.

Asset2017 edition2022 editionChange (%)
Apple market cap$807 billion$2.3 trillion+185%
Crypto$173 billion$760 billion+339%
Fed Balance Sheet$4.5 trillion$8.7 trillion+93%
Stock Markets$73 trillion$95.9 trillion+31%
Global Debt$215 trillion$300 trillion+40%

And in just five years, Apple nearly quadrupled in size (it peaked at $3 trillion in January 2022), and crypto also expanded into a multi-trillion dollar market until it was brought back to Earth through the 2022 crash and subsequent FTX implosion.

Meanwhile, global debt continues to accumulate—growing by $85 trillion in the five-year period.

With interest rates expected to continue to rise, companies making cost cuts, and policymakers reining in spending and borrowing, today is another unique snapshot in time.

Now that the easy money era is over, where do things go from here?

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Money

Charted: Income Distributions in 16 Different Countries

This graphic shows income distributions in 16 different countries around the world, using data from the World Inequality Database.

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charting income distributions in select countries

Charting Income Distributions in 16 Different Countries

Throughout the 19th century, roughly 80% of the global population lived in what we’d now consider extreme poverty.

And as earnings and living conditions have improved dramatically since then, they haven’t done so evenly across the world. There are still vast income gaps, both between different countries and within them.

To highlight these global income discrepancies, this chart by Ruben Berge Mathisen shows income distributions around the world, using 2021 income data from the World Inequality Database (WID) on a per adult basis.

Global Income Distributions

This graphic shows the adult income distributions of 16 different countries in U.S. dollars, along with the world average.

On a global scale, adults making an annual income greater than $124,720 make it into the 99th percentile, meaning they make more than 99% of the worldwide population.

However, things change when you zoom in on specific countries. Here’s a look at all the countries on the list, and how much annual income is needed (at minimum) to be in the top 1%:

RegionCountryAdult income (2021, 99th percentile)
North America🇺🇸 United States$336,953.19
North America🇨🇦 Canada$193,035.55
North America🇲🇽 Mexico$130,388.19
South America🇧🇷 Brazil$115,257.86
South America🇨🇴 Colombia$97,500.37
South America🇦🇷 Argentina$94,794.89
Asia🇨🇳 China$99,095.34
Asia🇮🇳 India$65,370.51
Asia🇮🇩 Indonesia$85,176.35
Europe🇷🇺 Russia$124,805.86
Europe🇩🇪 Germany$212,106.53
Europe🇬🇧 United Kingdom$162,547.56
Africa🇳🇬 Nigeria$53,144.36
Africa🇪🇹 Ethiopia$24,295.66
Africa🇪🇬 Egypt$115,546.44
Oceania🇦🇺 Australia$164,773.40
🌎 World$124,719.60

People in America’s top 1% make at least $336,953 in annual pre-tax income. That’s more than $100,000 above the 1% of next closest countries, Germany ($212,107) and Canada ($193,036).

On the flip side, adults in Ethiopia only need to make $24,297 to fall into the country’s 99th percentile. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world—according to estimates by the World Bank, about 27% of Ethiopia’s population is thought to be currently living under the poverty line.

Income Gaps Within Countries

It is also noticeable how much income varies within each country.

One example is Colombia, which has one of the largest wealth gaps of any country on the list. The 99th percentile in Colombia is making an annual income that’s 192x higher than its 10th percentile. In contrast, an income in the 99th percentile in the United States is 83x higher than the 10th percentile.

Colombia’s high level of income inequality stems from early childhood disadvantages, such as lack of access to education, which can limit opportunities later on in life.

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