In the last few years, billionaires have only been adding to their net worth, and it likely won't be long until someone reaches the status of a trillionaire. Here's everything you need to know:
When will someone be worth $1 trillion?
It's hard to pinpoint a definitive answer, given that the net worths of the world's richest people are constantly fluctuating. However, a number of financial calculators have attempted to predict when the world might see its first trillionaire.
Finance and procurement platform Approve analyzed the state of the world's priciest elite, looking at data from the 30 wealthiest people in the world. Their results showed that someone's net worth will likely exceed $1 trillion a lot sooner than most people might think — certainly before the end of the decade.
Examining the net worths of these individuals from January 2022, the website determined that the first trillionaire could hit the milestone as soon as 2024, though depending on the world economy, this could possibly get pushed back a few years beyond that.
Who will it be, and will there be others?
At one time, the obvious answer was Twitter CEO and Tesla founder Elon Musk. The controversial tech mogul is currently valued at around $180 billion, according to Forbes. He is the world's second richest person, having recently lost the crown to LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault, who himself could also be in the running to become a trillionaire by the early 2030s.
For a long time, Musk seemed to be the consensus choice to become the first person to reach a $1 trillion net worth. After all, his wealth was on a seemingly meteoric rise, and he was at one point valued at over $200 billion. "Of the 21 individuals who stand a chance of reaching this phenomenal milestone in their lifetime, Elon Musk is predicted to be the first," said CEO Magazine. This prediction was reiterated by The Guardian, The Economic Times, and many others.
However, Musk's net worth has been plummeting recently, in part due to plunging Tesla stocks and a number of controversial decisions he made surrounding his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. The majority of the outlets predicting Musk as the first trillionaire had published pieces earlier in 2022 — prior to his Twitter takeover.
So if Musk doesn't end up being the world's first trillionaire, who else could it be? Well, there's always Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who held the spot as the world's richest man for many years before being usurped by Musk. He is still the third-richest person on Earth, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $116.8 billion, and could easily jump a few spots in the rankings. Investopedia reported on another possible dark-horse candidate: genome researcher Craig Venter. The outlet noted his research could make him extremely wealthy, especially if he were to pivot to trying to find a cure for cancer, though he is less likely to hit the trillion-dollar mark as things currently stand.
Others cited by Approve as potential trillionaire candidates include Zhang Yiming, the founder of Chinese tech company ByteDance Technology, who is valued at $55 billion, and Mukesh Ambani, an Indian mogul and the chairman of conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited, who is valued at $83 billion.
However, even some ultra-rich people themselves believe the world's first trillionaire will come from the tech space. Mark Cuban, known for owning the Dallas Mavericks and his entrepreneurism on ABC's Shark Tank, said in 2017, "The world's first trillionaires are going to come from somebody who masters AI and all its derivatives and applies it in ways we never thought of." Cuban added that the world will "see more technological advances over the next ten years than we have over the last thirty. It's just going to blow everything away."
So just how much money is $1 trillion?
It can be hard to grasp just how much more money $1 trillion is than even $1 billion. Basically, $1 trillion is equal to 1,000 billion dollars, which itself equals 1,000 million dollars, Investopedia noted. Simply put, the outlet called it a "phenomenal sum of money."
$1 trillion is so large that trying to put it into perspective can often be difficult. For starters, it's roughly the same as many countries' gross domestic products, according to the World Bank. This includes Australia, which has an estimated GDP of $1.5 trillion, Brazil, which has a GDP of $1.6 trillion, and Indonesia, which has a GDP of $1.1 trillion. While many countries have GDPs in the tens of trillions, there are still a number of highly developed states that just barely reach the trillion-dollar mark.
USA Today compiled a list of just some of the things a person could do with $1 trillion — and it's quite specific. For example, you could buy every person in San Francisco an apartment, even in a city where the average rent is $3,600 and home prices average $1.35 million. A sports fan could buy the Miami Dolphins football team — 1,000 times over. In fact, you could buy every team in every sports league, according to Fox Business, and still have three-quarters of your wealth left. You could also buy all of the shares of ExxonMobil, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola and still have money to spare.
Beyond the financial aspects of $1 trillion, it can be hard to comprehend just how much more one trillion is than one billion, of anything. For example, USA Today noted that if you were to time-travel back one billion seconds, you'd be in 1987, which, relative to world history, is not long at all. However, time-travel back one trillion seconds, and you'd be a little farther back on the timeline — approximately 30,000 BC.
Should trillionaires even exist?
Some people would argue they shouldn't, and there's an interesting scale online that shows just how vast wealth inequality is, not only in the United States but the world. USA Today noted that there was a backlash in 2020 when it was reported that Bezos was on track to become a trillionaire, especially in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. A video made by CollegeHumor shows just how much money someone like Bezos truly has, critiquing his wealth in contrast to claims from Amazon employees that they work long hours without bathroom breaks.
Bezos is one of a number of the super-rich that has faced criticism in light of their growing wealth — and as stated, COVID-19 didn't do much to quell the financial growth of these moguls. If anything, most reports suggest that the rich have just gotten richer, and the poor have just gotten poorer.
Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates, himself one of the longtime richest people in the world, has weighed in on whether people should be able to accumulate this type of wealth. "For the first time in my life, people are saying, 'Okay, should you have billionaires?'" Gates told Forbes. "If you really implemented something like that, the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose."
March 13, 2023: This article has been updated with additional information throughout.