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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Personal Finance

Mapped: The Salary You Need to Buy a Home in 50 U.S. Cities

Is owning a home still realistic? This map lays out the salary you’d need to buy a home in 50 different U.S. metro areas.

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This is the Salary You Need to Buy a Home in 50 U.S. Cities

Depending on where you live, owning a home may seem like a far off dream or it could be fairly realistic. In New York City, for example, a person needs to be making at least six figures to buy a home, but in Cleveland you could do it with just over $45,000 a year.

This visual, using data from Home Sweet Home, maps out the annual salary you’d need for home ownership in 50 different U.S. cities.

Note: The map above refers to entire metro areas and uses Q1 2022 data on median home prices. The necessary salary was calculated by the source, looking at the base cost of principal, interest, property tax, and homeowner’s insurance.

Home Ownership Across the U.S.

San Jose is by far the most expensive city when it comes to purchasing a home. A person would need to earn over $330,000 annually to pay off the mortgage at a monthly rate of $7,718.

Here’s a closer look at the numbers:

RankMetro AreaMedian Home PriceSalary Needed
#1San Jose$1,875,000$330,758
#2San Francisco$1,380,000$249,685
#3San Diego$905,000$166,828
#4Los Angeles$792,500$149,127
#5Seattle$746,200$140,768
#6Boston$639,000$130,203
#7New York City$578,100$129,459
#8Denver$662,200$121,888
#9Austin$540,700$114,679
#10Washington, D.C.$553,000$110,327
#11Portland$570,500$109,267
#12Riverside/San Bernardino$560,000$106,192
#13Sacramento$545,000$105,934
#14Miami$530,000$103,744
#15Salt Lake City$556,900$100,970
#16Providence$406,700$88,477
#17Phoenix$474,500$86,295
#18Las Vegas$461,100$84,116
#19Raleigh$439,100$83,561
#20Dallas$365,400$81,165
#21Orlando$399,900$79,573
#22Chicago$325,400$76,463
#23Tampa$379,900$75,416
#24Houston$330,800$74,673
#25Minneapolis$355,800$74,145
#26Baltimore$350,900$73,803
#27Nashville$387,200$73,502
#28Jacksonville$365,900$73,465
#29Hartford$291,000$73,165
#30Charlotte$379,900$72,348
#31San Antonio$321,100$70,901
#32Atlanta$350,300$69,619
#33Philadelphia$297,900$69,569
#34Richmond$354,500$68,629
#35Milwaukee$298,800$65,922
#36Kansas City$287,400$60,507
#37Columbus$274,300$59,321
#38Virginia Beach$289,900$59,245
#39New Orleans$281,100$57,853
#40Birmingham$289,500$55,662
#41Indianapolis$271,600$53,586
#42Memphis$259,300$52,691
#43Cincinnati$244,300$51,840
#44Buffalo$202,300$51,525
#45Detroit$224,300$50,302
#46St Louis$216,700$48,988
#47Louisville$235,400$48,121
#48Cleveland$192,700$45,448
#49Oklahoma City$198,200$45,299
#50Pittsburgh$185,700$42,858

Perhaps surprisingly, Boston residents need slightly higher earnings than New Yorkers to buy a home. The same is also true in Seattle and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, some of the cheapest cities to start buying up real estate in are Oklahoma City and Cleveland.

As of April, the rate of home ownership in the U.S. is 65%. This number represents the share of homes that are occupied by the owner, rather than rented out or vacant.

The American Dream Home

As of the time of this data (Q1 2022), the national yearly fixed mortgage rate sat at 4% and median home price at $368,200. This put the salary needed to buy a home at almost $76,000⁠—the median national household income falls almost $9,000 below that.

But what kind of homes are people looking to purchase? Depending on where you live the type of home and square footage you can get will be very different.

In New York City, for example, there are fairly few stand-alone, single-family houses in the traditional sense⁠—only around 4,000 are ever on the market. People in the Big Apple tend to buy condominiums or multi-family units.

Additionally, if you’re looking for luxury, not even seven figures will get you much in the big cities. In Miami, a million dollars will only buy you 833 square feet of prime real estate.

One thing is for sure: the typical American dream home of the big house with a yard and white picket fence is more attainable in smaller metro areas with ample suburbs.

Buying vs. Renting

The U.S. median household income is $67,500, meaning that today the typical family could only afford a home in about 15 of the 50 metro areas highlighted above, including New Orleans, Buffalo, and Indianapolis.

With the income gap widening in the U.S., the rental market remains a more attractive option for many, especially as prices are finally tapering off. The national median rent price was down nearly 3% from June to July for two-bedroom apartments.

At the end of the day, buying a home can be an important investment and may provide a sense of security, but it will be much easier to do in certain types of cities.

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Investor Education

Countries with the Highest Default Risk in 2022

In this infographic, we examine new data that ranks the top 25 countries by their default risk.

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Countries with the Highest Default Risk in 2022

In May 2022, the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt for the first time. The country’s government was given a 30-day grace period to cover $78 million in unpaid interest, but ultimately failed to pay.

Not only does this impact Sri Lanka’s economic future, but it also raises an important question: which other countries are at risk of default?

To find out, we’ve used data from Bloomberg to rank the countries with the highest default risk.

The Sovereign Debt Vulnerability Ranking

Bloomberg’s Sovereign Debt Vulnerability Ranking is a composite measure of a country’s default risk. It’s based on four underlying metrics:

  • Government bond yields (the weighted-average yield of the country’s dollar bonds)
  • 5-year credit default swap (CDS) spread
  • Interest expense as a percentage of GDP
  • Government debt as a percentage of GDP

To better understand this ranking, let’s focus on Ukraine and El Salvador as examples.

CountryRankGovernment Bond
Yield (%)
5Y CDS SpreadInterest Expense
(% of GDP)
Government Debt
(% of GDP)
🇸🇻 El Salvador131.8%3,376 bps
(33.76%)
4.9%82.6%
🇺🇦 Ukraine860.4%10,856 bps
(100.85%)
2.9%49%

1 basis point (bps) = 0.01%

Why are Ukraine’s Bond Yields so High?

Ukraine has high default risk due to its ongoing conflict with Russia. To understand why, consider a scenario where Russia was to assume control of the country. If this happened, it’s possible that Ukraine’s existing debt obligations will never be repaid.

That scenario has prompted a sell-off of Ukrainian government bonds, pushing their value down to nearly 30 cents on the dollar. This means that a bond with face value of $100 could be purchased for $30.

Because yields move in the opposite direction of price, the average yield on these bonds has climbed to a very high 60.4%. As a point of comparison, the yield on a U.S. 10-year government bond is currently 2.9%.

What is a CDS Spread?

Credit default swaps (CDS) are a type of derivative (financial contract) that provides a lender with insurance in the event of a default. The seller of the CDS represents a third party between the lender (investors) and borrower (in this case, governments).

In exchange for receiving coverage, the buyer of a CDS pays a fee known as the spread, which is expressed in basis points (bps). If a CDS has a spread of 300 bps (3%), this means that to insure $100 in debt, the investor must pay $3 per year.

Applying this to Ukraine’s 5-year CDS spread of 10,856 bps (108.56%), an investor would need to pay $108.56 each year to insure $100 in debt. This suggests that the market has very little faith in Ukraine’s ability to avoid default.

Why is El Salvador Ranked Higher?

Despite having lower values in the two metrics discussed above, El Salvador ranks higher than Ukraine because of its larger interest expense and total government debt.

According to the data above, El Salvador has annual interest payments equal to 4.9% of its GDP, which is relatively high. Comparing to the U.S. once more, America’s federal interest costs amounted to 1.6% of GDP in 2020.

When totaled, El Salvador’s outstanding debts are equal to 82.6% of GDP. This is considered high by historical standards, but today it’s actually quite normal.

The next date to watch will be January 2023, as this is when the country’s $800 million sovereign bond reaches maturity. Recent research suggests that if El Salvador were to default, it would experience significant, yet temporary, negative effects.

Another Hot Topic for El Salvador: Bitcoin

In September 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. This means that Bitcoin is recognized by law as a means to settle debts and other obligations.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticized this decision in early 2022, urging the country to revoke legal tender status. In hindsight, these warnings were wise, as Bitcoin’s value has fallen by 56% year-to-date.

While this isn’t directly related to El Salvador’s default risk, it does open potential avenues for relief. For instance, large players in the crypto space may be willing to assist the government to keep the concept of “nation-state bitcoin adoption” alive.

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