Last month, Jeff Bezos became the world’s richest person. His current net worth of over $110 billion is a shockingly large figure and beats me by a sizable margin.
But is Mr. Bezos really the richest person ever? In nominal dollars, sure (at least for the next 10 minutes), but what about when you adjust for inflation?
It turns out he’s not even in the top ten.
Their list (w/ 2013 inflation-adjusted net worth):
- Mansa Musa I, (Ruler of Malian Empire, 1280-1331) $400 billion
- Rothschild Family (banking dynasty, 1740- ) $350 billion
- John D Rockefeller (industrialist, founder of Standard Oil, 1839-1937) $340 billion
- Andrew Carnegie (industrialist, founder of U.S. Steel, 1835-1919) $310 billion
- Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov / Nicholas II (Tsar of Russia, 1868-1918) $300 billion
- Mir Osman Ali Khan (Nizam of Hyderabad, 1886-1967) $230 billion
- William the Conqueror (conqueror / King of England, 1028-1087) $229.5 billion
- Muammar Gaddafi (leader of Libya, 1942-2011) $200 billion
- Henry Ford (founder of Ford Motor Company, 1863-1947) $199 billion
- Cornelius Vanderbilt (railroad baron / industrialist, 1794-1877) $185 billion
Adjusting historical wealth for inflation makes for a more fair comparison and puts Mr. Bezos well out of the top 10.
However, there is another way to rank historical net worth. We’ll allow for inflation, but let’s calculate the current net worth of these guys (while Celebrity Net Worth groups all of the Rothschilds together, I’ll use the founding father, Mayer Rothschild (1744-1812), who is deader than a doornail).
The current net worth of the top 10 richest people in the history of the world is $0.00.
Not only is that great news for Mr. Bezos (you are #1…for now), but it also means that I am richer than the 10 richest people in history. Take that, Mansa Musa.
Of course, Mr. Musa might cry foul – since I too will die and slip back to the bottom rank, he’d say it’s not fair to compare current net worth.
Normally I’d just tell him to look at the scoreboard, but I’m in a sporting mood today. I’m willing to compare my wealth to Mansa Musa’s when he was alive. Who’s richer? Me, or the highest net worth guy who ever lived?
Who Will Win: Paul versus Mansa Musa
At first glance, this doesn’t look like much of a contest.
Mansa Musa had way more land, gold, camels, soldiers, wives, slaves, and salt than I’ll ever have. His wealth was described as “immeasurable” and “inconceivable”, which sounds like a lot.
However, maybe we should look beyond the raw wealth and see what our respective fortunes can actually get us.
I have state-of-the-art entertainment that cost billions of dollars to develop available at my fingertips for almost free. Almost every book ever written in any language. A huge variety of incredibly exciting sports with world-class athletes. Amazing movies and TV shows.
Mansa Musa didn’t even have a crappy black-and-white TV. He never saw a movie, and he never played any video games. He would have gazed with wonder and envy at the e-book collection of my public library. What did he have? Maybe community theater and camel races.
Food and Drink
The entire world is my kitchen. I have easy access to delicious food from every corner of the globe.
Mansa Musa, despite having an army of cooks, had a pretty limited menu. And even if he had a great meal, he couldn’t save the leftovers in a refrigerator. He never ate pizza, Tex-Mex, chocolate, or ice cream. A whole life without ice cream. Think about that for a moment.
I have an automatic coffee maker that serves me delicious coffee every morning. It’s like my personal butler. Mansa Musa didn’t even know what coffee was!
I’m projected to live into my 70’s, and there\’s a good chance it\’ll be a nice ride.
Mansa Musa died in his 50’s, and it was probably pretty tough at the end.
House and Amenities
I can literally control my environment with my HVAC. I have electricity, running water (hot and cold), and multiple indoor toilets.
Mali is hot. Like, Africa-hot. And Mansa Musa just had to deal with it. He didn’t have a single electrical appliance and no running water. I’m not sure what his toilet setup was, but I imagine it wasn’t pretty.
I have been vermin-free almost all of my life. I can take a hot bath or shower whenever I want.
Mansa Musa, while he probably had a whole posse to delouse him, had to deal with all sorts of parasitic creatures nibbling on him. Every day of his life. He could probably get a bath whenever he wanted, but I bet he had to bust some heads to get the water just right.
I can travel almost anywhere in the world easily and safely. Oh and I can fly.
Mansa Musa had to travel by camel caravan. He never went skiing or scuba diving or to Disneyland. His big lifetime trip was a year-plus pilgrimage to Mecca, and it sounds like one of the worst road trips ever.
I can buy amazing products from anywhere on the planet and have them delivered almost instantly to my door (thanks Jeff!).
Mansa Musa would probably have given half his net worth just for access to the wares of my local Wal-Mart.
We Are the Richest (So Far)
When you consider what our respective wealth could get us, I think I beat out Mansa Musa handily. The guy with the highest net worth in history would probably have gladly swapped places with me.
We are living in a Golden Age. Perhaps folks in the future will look back and pity us (“Can you believe Jeff Bezos didn’t have any cyborg parts and couldn’t teleport at all?”), but we’ve got it pretty good.
We take for granted many things that make us the envy of our ancestors. When you flip a light switch, or start your car, or flush your toilet, think what that’s truly worth to you. It’s easy to forget in a world of billionaires, but we are some of the richest people who have ever lived.