At its snowy retreat in the Swiss Alps, the World Economic Forum is debating how much inequality is too much. The aid charity Oxfam pointed out that a glance through the richest 100 people in the world shows that the pendulum has already swung heavily in favour of an elite group: the top 85 in the Forbes rich list control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together.
A look down the list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1-trillion – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico's telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft's Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck.
Liliane Bettencourt qualifies as the world's richest woman (and ninth richest indiviual) after a dramatic rise in the value of her 30% holding in cosmetics group L'Oreal, which her father founded. Famous for her family feuds, the 90-year old is the world's ninth richest person with a fortune worth $30-billion, though she suffers from dementia and no longer sits on the board.
Christy Walton is the richest of the Walton clan and 11th richest in the world. She inherited $28.2-billion when husband John died in an airplane crash in 2005. Her lead over other Waltons follows a side investment by John in solar panel maker First Solar. Like her sister-in-law Alice, she received nearly $350-million in Wal-Mart dividends after taxes in 2013.
Success in the confectionery business pushed Jacqueline Mars to joint number 36 with her brother John and Forrest. They inherited the maker of Mars and Snickers bars in 1999 when their father died.
Australian Georgina Rinehart, like the Mars siblings, is worth $17-billion. Charity is not her middle name. In her self-published book she recommended all Aussie workers accept the $2-a-day wages commonly paid in Africa.
Susanne Klatten inherited a 12.6% stake in car maker BMW. Along with her brother Stefan Quandt (81st richest in the world) and mother Johanna Quandt she owns almost 50% of the company. A trained economist, Klatten is Germany's richest woman with assets worth $14.3-billion (and 58th richest in the world).
Germans do well in the rankings of the world's richest. Contrary to the stereotype of a collectivist social democracy from the boardroom to the shop floor, company owners are much better than their UK counterparts at amassing huge fortunes.
Karl Albrecht (number 18) owns all of Aldi Sud, Germany's largest discount supermarket chain. With stores across Europe and the US, he outstrips his brother Theo, who inherited the other half of the business. Aldo Sud is worth $26-billion while Aldi Nord is worth almost $19-billion.
Dieter Schwarz (number 29) inherited Lidl, the discount retailer that had $85-billion in revenues in 2012 and is the second biggest discounter behind Aldi. Dividends are donated to a charitable company that Schwarz controls. The Schwarz Foundation supports education and daycare facilities for children, according to Forbes.
Michael Otto and his four siblings (61st in the world) are another German success story. They share ownership of Otto Group, a conglomerate they inherited that includes a US home furnishings retailer and German toy chain My Toys.
Otto claims the group is the second largest internet retailer after Amazon.
The last woman on the list is Abigail Johnson, who is a third-generation executive at Fidelity Investments, the second-largest US investment fund manager. Her estimated 24% stake gives her an asset worth $12.7-billion and a place at number 74. – guardian.co.uk © – Guardian News and Media 2014