fbpx Top-End Wealth Accumulation: The Forbes Lists and Wealth Inequality | Harvard Kennedy School

Additional Authors:

  • Thomas Remington


2023, Paper: "The annual Forbes magazine’s lists of the wealthiest individuals in the world are a widely used source of data about the dynamics of wealth concentration. They complement the estimates of global and national wealth concentration published annually by Credit Suisse Bank and the World Inequality Database. Both sources enable analysis of the dynamics of wealth accumulation. This paper seeks to assess the degree to which political–institutional forces as opposed to market forces shape the process of wealth accumulation. The paper finds that the growth rate of the total wealth of the top 400 individuals between 2000 and 2020 was much higher than for their countries as a whole. Moreover, wealth at the very top has become significantly more concentrated. The processes generating accumulation of wealth nationally foster higher rates of wealth accumulation for the wealthiest. The paper proposes political and institutional explanations based on opportunities for rent-extraction by the wealthiest. Rising market power on the part of some firms and sectors enables profitability to become decoupled from productivity and enables individual-level wealth to accumulate at a rate proportional to the level of wealth."