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Are paper billionaires real billionaires?

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Jeff Horwich: Well, easy come, easy go: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has dropped off Bloomberg’s top ten list of the richest tech billionaires. The reason is that shares of Facebook are near record low.

From our Wealth and Poverty desk, Shereen Marisol Meraji has more.

Shereen Marisol Meraji: Man, we are obsessed with billionaires, aren’t we?

Kerry Dolan: It’s a way of keeping score, people love to keep score.

Kerry Dolan is a senior editor at Forbes, she covers billionaires for the magazine.

Dolan: It’s one of the most popular things that we do.

But can you keep score if one billionaire’s money is tied up in his company’s publicly traded shares and another has hard assets – cash in the bank, gold in a vault, that sort of thing?

Richard Florida: One of the real risks is that you have billions wrapped up in a single company and if that company doesn’t perform or succeed, you have an very undiversified portfolio.

Richard Florida’s a business professor at the University of Toronto.

Florida: We’ve created this paper billionaire phenomenon and they come and they go. Dolan: I don’t know, I don’t really like the term paper billionaire.

Kerry Dolan of Forbes says there is real value in the company shares that billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg own and that should count toward their net-worth. And, Zuckerberg, he may not be on the ten richest tech billionaires list anymore, but as of today, he’s still the B word.

I’m Shereen Marisol Meraji for Marketplace.

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Silicon Valley is churning out new paper millionaires. Nearly all are men

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With companies such as Uber Technologies Inc., Slack Technologies Inc. and Pinterest Inc. going public this year, the question has been: How many millionaires will Silicon Valley mint? What’s not being asked is how much of that new wealth will go to women.

The answer, according to a new study released last week, is: not much. Carta, an equity management platform, crunched data from more than 300,000 employees at 10,000-plus companies, and found 4 in 5 paper millionaires are men.

The jobs that land the biggest equity packages tend to be held by men in C-suite roles, said Emily Kramer, Carta’s vice president of marketing. “As wealth goes up, the percentage of millionaires who are women go down because they are not CEOs, CFOs or founders,” she said.

Chief marketing officers, the most common executive role held by women, have the lowest median equity award, 39% less than that of chief financial officers, who tend to get the most generous packages after chief executives.

Among the world’s 500 richest people, there are just two female technology billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. MacKenzie Bezos, a major shareholder of Amazon.com Inc., is worth $36 billion, and Zhou Qunfei, founder of Lens Technology, is worth $5.9 billion. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, who is not in the top 500, has a net worth of $2.1 billion.

Carta last year for the first time identified an “ equity gap ,” finding women in Silicon Valley held 47 cents of equity for every dollar of equity men held. Carta this year found a slight improvement: Women hold 49 cents for every dollar in stock options men do, a 2 percentage point increase from last year. Women make up more than a third of all employees but hold only 20% of equity wealth, the study finds.

Although most equity ends up being worth nothing, when a start-up goes public or gets acquired, stock grants can result in a big payday, creating the next class of angel investors and entrepreneurs. And even with underwhelming valuations from tech companies this year, underrepresented employees are getting the “short end of the stick” and become “collateral damage,” said Henry Ward, chief executive of Carta.

The gender equity gap exists for a variety of interconnected reasons. Early employees often get better stock options than those who join later, and younger companies tend to have smaller proportions of women. There’s also a lack of representation on founding teams. Women make up only 13% of all founders in the data pulled by Carta, and female-founded teams got only 2.2% of venture funding last year.

Women also say they don’t know what to ask for during already opaque salary negotiations. One woman who worked for a unicorn start-up, who asked not to be identified to avoid alienating her former employer, said she didn’t know to ask for refresh grants after getting promoted several times. When the company went public, she ended up getting $20,000 (before taxes); she calculates she could’ve been a millionaire.

As WeWork prepared to go public, Trista Kempa, who says she was the 17th employee, said she wasn’t offered options at all. “I was 23, naive, and didn’t know what equity or options were — I certainly didn’t know how much it could impact my financial future,” she tweeted .

WeWork did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company wound up withdrawing its IPO.

Carta offers educational materials that teach women how to negotiate their liquidity preferences and ask for a fair equity offer upfront.

“It’s not a matter of getting in the door,” said Carta’s Kramer, who is also head of Table Stakes, an initiative highlighting the gender gap in equity at venture-backed companies. “It’s about advising employees on how to avoid a WeWork situation.”

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is a paper billionaire

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What is a Paper Millionaire?

Diane Goettel

A paper millionaire is a person who owns one million dollars or more in investments. The difference between a paper millionaire and an actual millionaire is that a paper millionaire has a significant portion of his money invested in stocks and other kinds of securities while an actual millionaire has most of his money either in savings or in investments that are not likely to drop in value. Stock market investments, however, can quickly rise and fall in value, which means that a person with lots of investments in the market can be a millionaire one day but not the next and vice versa.

Very often, when people have lots of money invested in the stock market, they will refer to their total worth as their worth "on paper." This means that, based on reports of the performance of their stocks, they are worth a certain amount of money. This is where the term "paper millionaire" comes from. As reports change from day to day, so can one's status as a millionaire. As such, a paper millionaire does not have a firm grasp of the title of "millionaire."

A paper millionaire may have a significant portion of her money invested in stocks.

When a certain market is growing very quickly, it is common for people invested in that market to become paper millionaires. A good example of this would be the dot-com bubble that burst in the early 2000s. There were lots of people invested in dot-com companies who had become paper millionaire only to fall below — far below, in some cases — a net worth of one million dollars.

A paper millionaire does not have $1 million in cash on hand.

For a paper millionaire to become an actual millionaire, his investments must be liquidated in part or in entirety from the stock market and put into a bank. For people who make their money with investments, this is not always an option. While some portion of investments in the stock market may be withdrawn as profits are earned, most investors keep part of their money in the stock market in hopes of making additional earnings in the future.

As it might take a while to siphon enough money out of stock market investments and into a bank account, it is possible for a person to be a paper millionaire for a long time before becoming an actual millionaire. This process can take even longer if the market is going through a rocky period or if the investor makes some investment choices that lead to a loss.

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for SmartCapitalMind, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments

@Iluviaporos - I find it interesting that millionaires are even considered to be that much of a big deal these days, to be honest. I mean, I'm certainly not a millionaire myself and it's not like a million dollars is a negligible sum, but I feel like people still think of someone who is a millionaire as being absolutely filthy rich and these days that isn't really true.

Particularly for paper millionaires, who probably don't have very much real cash to throw around at all. And that's why they end up getting into trouble, because they see themselves as being rich because they have a million dollars on paper, and so they rack up credit card debt and loans trying to live the way they think a millionaire should live. But a fancy sports car is pretty much going to eat up half of a million and a fancy house will take even more, so the lifestyles people expect to be able to live end up being out of reach.

And then the stock market crashes and the dirt really hits the fan.

@browncoat - We've definitely come a long way from the days when people would expect the government to back up all the money in circulation with gold. There was even an argument once about whether it was prudent to change from gold to silver. The ones who argued against doing that would probably be horrified by today's system.

But for the most part it works. And I don't actually think it's a bad thing for people to be able to work without the constraints of money, even money in accounts.

I find it kind of scary that people can be paper millionaires in the first place. I know we are all supposed to take for granted the fact that money is often ephemeral and exists in some kind of strange limbo where we always expect to be able to make it real at a whim. But I suspect if every paper millionaire was to suddenly decide to cash in their paper, they would find a great deal of difficulty in doing so. I suspect that the system depends on a lot of this money only literally existing in numbers rather than in reality.

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A paper millionaire may have a significant portion of her money invested in stocks.

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Why Buy a Yacht When You Can Buy a Newspaper?

Billionaires aren’t usually cast as saviors of democracy. But one way they are winning plaudits for civic-minded endeavors is by funding the Fourth Estate.

is a paper billionaire

By Nicholas Kulish

Billionaires have had a pretty good pandemic. There are more of them than there were a year ago, even as the crisis has exacerbated inequality. But scrutiny has followed these ballooning fortunes. Policymakers are debating new taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Even their philanthropy has come under increasing criticism as an exercise of power as much as generosity.

One arena in which the billionaires can still win plaudits as civic-minded saviors is buying the metropolitan daily newspaper.

The local business leader might not have seemed like such a salvation a quarter century ago, before Craigslist, Google and Facebook began divvying up newspapers’ fat ad revenues. Generally, the neighborhood billionaires are considered worth a careful look by the paper’s investigative unit. But a lot of papers don’t even have an investigative unit anymore, and the priority is survival.

This media landscape nudged newspaper ownership from the vanity column toward the philanthropy side of the ledger. Paying for a few more reporters and to fix the coffee machine can earn you acclaim for a lot less effort than, say, spending two decades building the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The latest example comes in the form of a $680 million bid by Hansjörg Wyss, a little-known Swiss billionaire, and Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a Maryland hotel magnate, for Tribune Publishing and its roster of storied broadsheets and tabloids like The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun.

Should Mr. Wyss and Mr. Bainum succeed in snatching Tribune away from Alden Global Capital, whose bid for the company had already won the backing of Tribune’s board , the purchase will represent the latest example of a more than decade-long quest by some of America’s ultrawealthy to prop up a crumbling pillar of democracy.

If there was a signal year in this development, it came in 2013. That is when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post and the Red Sox’ owner, John Henry, bought The Boston Globe.

“I invested in The Globe because I believe deeply in the future of this great community, and The Globe should play a vital role in determining that future,” Mr. Henry wrote at the time .

Mr. Bezos and Marty Baron, the recently retired editor of The Post, famously led a revival of the paper to its former glory. And after a somewhat rockier start, experts said that Mr. Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners, have gone a long way toward restoring that paper as well.

Across the country, for Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the physician and billionaire who bought The Los Angeles Times in 2018, it hasn’t always gone smoothly. But few prefer the alternative of hedge-fund ownership.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that The Los Angeles Times is in a better place today than if Tribune had held on to it these last three years or so,” said Norman Pearlstine , who served as executive editor for two years after Dr. Soon-Shiong’s purchase and still serves as a senior adviser. “I don’t think that’s open to debate or dispute.”

From Utah to Minnesota and from Long Island to the Berkshires , local grandees have decided that a newspaper is an essential part of the civic fabric. Their track records as owners are somewhat mixed, but mixed in this case is better than the alternative.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a report last year showing that in the previous 15 years, more than a quarter of American newspapers disappeared, leaving behind what they called “news deserts.” The 2020 report was an update of a similar one from 2018, but just in those two years another 300 newspapers died, taking 6,000 journalism jobs with them.

“I don’t think anybody in the news business even has rose colored glasses anymore,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, a nonprofit journalism advocacy group. “They took them off a few years ago, and they don’t know where they are.”

“The advantage of a local owner who cares about the community is that they in theory can give you runway and also say, ‘Operate at break-even on a cash-flow basis and you’re good,’” said Mr. Rosenstiel.

For instance, Glen Taylor, a Minnesota billionaire who owns the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is not showering the newsroom with money, said Michael Klingensmith, publisher and chief executive of the paper. “The understanding we have with Glen is that if we generate cash, it’s ours to keep but he’s not interested in investing more,” he said. “He expects the business to be completely self-sufficient.”

But at 240 staffers, the newsroom is as big as it was when Mr. Klingensmith arrived in 2010, something relatively few papers can boast of over the same period. The Star Tribune’s goal was to reach 100,000 digital subscribers by the end of last year, and it hit that mark by May. And the paper just won a prestigious Polk Award for its coverage of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

“The communities that have papers owned by very wealthy people in general have fared much better because they stayed the course with large newsrooms,” said Ken Doctor, on hiatus as a media industry analyst to work as C.E.O. and founder of Lookout Local, which is trying to revive the local news business in smaller markets, starting in Santa Cruz, Calif. Hedge funds, by contrast, have expected as much as 20 percent of revenue a year from their properties, which can often be achieved only by stripping papers of reporters and editors for short-term gain.

Alden has made deep cuts at many of its MediaNews Group publications, including The Denver Post and The San Jose Mercury News. Alden argues that it is rescuing papers that might otherwise have gone out of business in the past two decades.

And a billionaire buyer is far from a panacea for the industry’s ills. “It’s not just, go find yourself a rich guy. It’s the right rich person. There are lots of people with lots of money. A lot of them shouldn’t run newspaper companies,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the former editor of The Chicago Tribune. “Sam Zell is Exhibit A. So be careful who you ask.”

Mr. Zell, the real estate maverick and billionaire whose nickname is “the grave dancer,” took Tribune Publishing private in a leveraged buyout in 2007. The company filed for bankruptcy the next year. His brief tenure helped set in motion the events leading to the Alden Capital bid.

Other rescuers have come and gone. There was a time when Warren Buffett looked like a potential savior for newspapers, investing in them through his company, Berkshire Hathaway. He has since beaten a retreat from the industry. And there have even been reports that Dr. Soon-Shiong has explored a sale of The Los Angeles Times (which he has denied ).

“The great fear of every billionaire is that by owning a newspaper they will become a millionaire,” said Mr. Rosenstiel.

Elizabeth Green, co-founder and chief executive at Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news organization with 30 reporters in eight cities around the country, said that rescuing a dozen metro dailies that are “obviously shells of their former selves” was never going to be enough to turn around the local news business.

“Even these attempts are still preserving institutions that were always flawed and not leaning into the new information economy and how we all consume and learn and pay for things,” said Ms. Green, who also co-founded the American Journalism Project , which is working to create a network of nonprofit outlets.

Ms. Green is not alone in her belief that the future of American journalism lies in new forms of journalism, often as nonprofits. The American Journalism Project received funding from the Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, the Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective, which also bought The Atlantic. Herbert and Marion Sandler, who built one of the country’s largest savings and loans, gave money to start ProPublica.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth of relatively small nonprofits that are now part of what I would call the philanthropic journalistic complex,” said Mr. Doctor. “The question really isn’t corporate structure, nonprofit or profit, the question is money and time.”

The scion of a wealthy Utah family, Paul Huntsman, bought The Salt Lake Tribune in Utah from a hedge fund in 2016. Circulation fell by half, ad revenue plummeted and he cut more than a third of the journalists. He has since turned it into the first metropolitan daily operating as a nonprofit .

After the cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest bought The Philadelphia Inquirer, he set up a hybrid structure. The paper is run as a for-profit, public benefit corporation, but it belongs to a nonprofit called the Lenfest Institute . The complex structure is meant to maintain editorial independence and maximum flexibility to run as a business while also encouraging philanthropic support.

Of the $7 million that Lenfest gave to supplement The Inquirer’s revenue from subscribers and advertisers in 2020, only $2 million of it came from the institute, while the remaining $5 million came from a broad array of national, local, institutional and independent donors, said Jim Friedlich , executive director and chief executive of Lenfest.

“I think philosophically, we’ve long accepted that we have no museums or opera houses without philanthropic support,” said Ms. Lipinski. “I think journalism deserves the same consideration.”

Mr. Bainum has said he plans to establish a nonprofit group that would buy The Sun and two other Tribune-owned Maryland newspapers if he and Mr. Wyss succeed in their bid.

“These buyers range across the political spectrum, and on the surface have little in common except their wealth,” said Mr. Friedlich. “Each seems to feel that American democracy is sailing through choppy waters, and they’ve decided to buy a newspaper instead of a yacht.”

Nicholas Kulish is an enterprise correspondent for the Times writing about philanthropy, wealth and nonprofits. Before that, he served as the Berlin bureau chief and an East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi. He joined The Times as a member of the Editorial Board in 2005. More about Nicholas Kulish

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Zuckerberg's Facebook stake is worth at least $16 billion

zuckerberg-facebook-ipo.gi.top.jpg

Why is Mark Zuckerberg smiling? Because he's rich.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- At age 27, Mark Zuckerberg is about to officially become a paper billionaire.

In the IPO paperwork Facebook filed Wednesday , the company reported that its founder and CEO owns more than a quarter of the company. Zuckerberg holds roughly 534 million shares.

What those shares are actually worth is a question for the open market to sort out when Facebook begins trading its shares publicly later this year. But Facebook said in its IPO paperwork that its own internal valuation puts their current value at $29.73 per share.

That means Zuckerberg's stake is worth $16 billion -- enough to make him one of the 50 richest people on the planet, by Forbes ' calculation.

But Facebook's valuation is fairly conservative. Analysts have ballparked the company's market value at $85 billion or more .

If that higher valuation holds up when the company goes public, Zuckerberg would be worth $24 billion or more. That'll put him in Forbes' top-10 list.

He's not the only one poised to make bucketloads on Facebook.

Accel Partners, the first major venture capitalist to fund Facebook, owns around 11% of the company. It invested $12.7 million in April 2005 and now has a stake worth roughly $6 billion, as of Facebook's last valuation.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz owns the third-highest number of shares, with 134 million. His 8% stake in the company is worth roughly $4 billion.

The Russian venture capital group DST Global's 131 million shares -- a 5% stake -- are worth roughly $3.9 billion. And investor Peter Thiel, who put up $500,000 to get Facebook through its first summer of operations, now owns a 2.5% stake worth $1.3 billion.

Though Zuckerberg only controls a 28% stake in the company, every other major shareholder -- including Breyer, Moskovitz, DST and Thiel -- has agreed to allow Zuckerberg to act as a proxy to vote with their shares.

That gives Zuckerberg voting control over 57% of Facebook's shares. The unusual arrangement means he'll essentially have sole decision-making power over Facebook.

Most of Zuckerberg's wealth is on paper. As the dot-com boom-and-bust illustrated, paper gains can vanish fast if a company's market value plunges.

But Zuckerberg has also collected some cold, hard cash over the years. Last year, he made $483,000, took home a $220,500 bonus, and received additional perks like private jet travel valued at $783,000.

His regular paycheck is about to be slashed, though. As of next year, Zuckerberg will make just $1 a year.

He didn't receive any more stock in 2011, and likely won't get any additional stock-based compensation after the company goes public. Facebook said in its filing that the company's directors believe Zuckerberg's current stock "sufficiently aligns his interests with those of our stockholders."

Facebook's No. 2 Sheryl Sandberg is actually the most handsomely paid at the company. She took home about $300,000 last year, with a $90,000 bonus, but received $30 million in stock grants.

Sandberg owns fewer than 2 million shares now, but she is sitting on stock grant of 38 million shares that will finish vesting in April 2013. That would make her another Facebook-created billionaire.

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What a billionaire can do for a paper (Hint: It’s not always good)

is a paper billionaire

A blessing. A curse. A visionary. A deluded, know-it-all, out-of-their-element disaster. 

If anyone knows the mixed bag a billionaire buying a media property can be, it's Dan Kennedy. He’s an associate journalism professor at Northeastern University and author of "The Return of the Moguls: How Jeff Bezos and John Henry Are Remaking Newspapers for the 21st Century." We asked Dan about the recent purchase of the Los Angeles Times and the track record of billionaires in publishing. 

Dan, the newsroom of the L.A. Times cheered when it was announced that Patrick Soon-Shiong , a South African-born SoCal transplant with a net worth estimated at $7.8 billion, bought the paper. Several staffers told me how sad they were in 2013 when another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, bought the Washington Post instead of their paper. Can a billionaire "fix" a news operation in a challenging environment?

Bezos succeeded the legendary Grahams, and many people both inside and outside the Post had hoped they could hold onto it forever. Soon-Shiong follows years of chaotic ownership at the Times, culminating in some real ugliness toward the end. So it’s not surprising that staff members cheered. If Soon-Shiong can offer stability, a sense of civic responsibility and financial resources, then Southern California will be well served.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Bezos has been a rousing success for reasons that can’t easily be duplicated. Other wealthy owners, even those with the best of intentions, have found that the declining fortunes of the newspaper business can only be managed, not reversed. That’s not to say there aren’t steps that can be taken to put newspapers on a firmer financial footing. But there is no miracle cure.

Incredible self-belief and determination seem to be key ingredients for self-made billionaires like Bezos and Soon-Shiong. In some ways, they are free of the blinders and experiential disappointments that can limit the imagination of some long-timers in the industry. But do they have the wherewithal to assess and accept advice — contrary to their opinions — that might prove beneficial?  

Kennedy

Bezos may have a lot of self-confidence, but he has shown real humility in running the Post — especially on the journalistic side, where he has let executive editor Marty Baron do his job without interference. With more journalists and more resources, Baron has been able to reinvent the Post, returning it to the glory days of the 1970s and ’80s, when it competed head to head with the New York Times.

Even on the technology side, where Bezos obviously has more experience, he left in place Shailesh Prakash , the chief technologist he inherited, recognizing him as one of the best in the business. What Bezos has done is drive technological development and the customer experience, two lessons he learned from running Amazon. It would have been a disaster if Bezos had ordered Baron to cover this story or not cover that story. But it’s good for everyone when Bezos pushes for such things as faster load times, more usable apps, advancements in the content management system, and the like. The Post today is not just a great news organization. It’s a technological powerhouse as well.

What Soon-Shiong could learn from Bezos is that he should concentrate on areas where he can add real value — mainly on the business side — and respect the wall that has traditionally separated news and commerce. We don’t know whether he intends to do that yet. Some wealthy owners get it. Some don’t.

What specifically are the ingredients that have made Bezos' acquisition of The Post such a success? Have they been replicated in Boston, or elsewhere?

The Washington Post under Bezos was uniquely positioned for transformation. By virtue of its location in the nation’s capital, Bezos was able to reimagine what had traditionally been a regional newspaper as a national digital news organization, a space that he perceived — correctly — still had room for competition. He was also able to leverage the Post with Amazon in some interesting ways, offering it at a substantial discount as part of the Kindle Fire and with Amazon Prime.

Bezos’ pockets, needless to say, are unimaginably deep, but his wealth has had less to do with the Post’s success than you might think. He’s boosted the size of the newsroom, but it is still substantially smaller than that of the New York Times. The Post says it was profitable in both 2016 and 2017. Bezos has invested some of his wealth in the Post, but he has done it in a disciplined manner aimed at building a real business rather than a rich man’s plaything.

Unfortunately, the Post’s unique circumstances mean that other wealthy owners have not been able to replicate what Bezos has done. Turning around a large regional newspaper such as the Boston Globe, for instance, is almost impossible. During his first few years at the helm, John Henry unveiled several digital projects and expanded print sections, only to pull back and cut staff. He’s now having some success with paid digital subscriptions, but a new printing plant aimed at cutting costs and serving other newspapers has been beset by problems .

One other wealthy owner I examine at some length in “The Return of the Moguls” is Aaron Kushner, a Boston-based businessman who, along with a group of investors, bought the Orange County Register in 2012. Kushner really cared about local journalism and its role in building community engagement. But he expanded the Register too quickly, adding about 150 full-time journalists to a staff of 180 in a matter of months. The immediate infusion of advertising and reader revenue he had hoped for did not materialize, and in 2015 he was pushed out. If nothing else, Kushner demonstrated that simply conjuring up a return to the glory days of newspapering is not a realistic option.

If you had to pick the all-time disappointment of a moneybags innocent into the publishing world, what would it be? Wendy McCaw in Santa Barbara ? Chris Hughes at the New Republic ?

McCaw and Hughes would be on anyone’s list. But my personal choice would be Sam Zell, the foul-mouthed Chicago real estate magnate who bought the Tribune papers and promptly ran them into the ground. Zell’s ownership resulted in one of the great media stories of our era — the late David Carr’s 2010 New York Times blockbuster in which he documented how Zell drove the company into bankruptcy, resulting in the loss of some 4,200 jobs, and presided over a dystopian hellhole of brutality and sexual harassment.

There is a certain symmetry in the Zell story, too. Tribune morphed into Tronc, and the turmoil that has defined that unfortunately named company is what led to the sale of the L.A. Times to Patrick Soon-Shiong. So the Zell episode continues to reverberate.

What's your early take on Patrick Soon-Shiong's chances to revitalize the Los Angeles Times?

Soon-Shiong has the financial means, if he chooses, to invest in the Times’ journalism and rebuild the paper into the great news organization that it once was. I’ve been struck that, through years of bad ownership, the Times has continued to do excellent work. So it shouldn’t take a herculean effort to set the paper right.

What is less certain is whether the Times, or any large newspaper, can re-establish itself as a profitable, thriving enterprise. If Soon-Shiong is willing to subsidize losses while giving his executives the time and resources they need to figure out a new business model, and allow his newsroom to operate with the independence that it needs, then he will be doing a tremendous service, as have Jeff Bezos and John Henry.

Of course, we all hope that that’s exactly what he’s got in mind.

Related: What should the Los Angeles Times expect from its new owner?

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling for Patrick Soon-Shiong's name.

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What Is a Billionaire?

Calculating net worth, famous billionaires, the bottom line.

  • Business Leaders
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Skylar Clarine is a fact-checker and expert in personal finance with a range of experience including veterinary technology and film studies.

is a paper billionaire

A billionaire is an individual with a net worth of at least one billion units in their native currency, such as dollars or euros . In other words, if a person owns assets that are worth 1.2 billion and owes 150,000 in total, they can be considered a billionaire. Assets can range from cash and cash equivalents to real estate and business and personal property. Since 1987, Forbes has ranked the wealthiest global citizens according to their net worth.

Key Takeaways

  • A billionaire has a net worth of at least one billion units in their native currency.
  • Net worth is the value of a person's assets, minus the liabilities they owe.
  • Billionaires can have a variety of assets, including cash and cash equivalents, real estate, and business and personal property.
  • Forbes has been ranking the world's billionaires since 1987.
  • Net worth fluctuates and billionaire status can be lost.

In the United States, a billionaire is a person with a net wealth of a billion dollars, or $1,000,000,000. Billionaires in other countries are defined by other monetary units. For example, a billionaire in the eurozone has a net worth of €1 billion, while a billionaire in the United Kingdom has £1 billion or more.

Subtracting liabilities from assets calculates an individual's net worth . A billionaire's assets are anything they own that has monetary value. That may include cash and liquid investments and personal property such as real estate, jewelry, boats, and cars. Business interests, such as equipment and commercial properties , are also included if the individual holds a personal stake in a corporation.

In some countries, becoming a billionaire is much easier. For example, 100 Venezuelan bolivar is the equivalent of about 276 USD.

Liabilities, meanwhile, are obligations that deplete resources, such as loans,  accounts payable  (AP), and mortgages.

Billionaires are wealthier than millionaires and worth less than trillionaires .

A deca-billionaire has more than $10 billion, while a centi-billionaire has more than $100 billion in net wealth.

Forbes magazine publishes a list of the world's billionaires every year in March. When Forbes produced the first list in 1987, there were 140 billionaires. According to Forbes' 2023 report, the United States has the most billionaires, with 735 list members worth a collective $4.5 trillion. Globally, there were 2,640 billionaires, as of March 2023.

Forbes also provides a list of billionaires in real-time online. This list can vary from the annual one because the value of assets and liabilities fluctuates.

On Feb. 5, 2024, Bernard Arnault, the founder, CEO, and chairman of luxury goods company Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), and his family topped the latest Forbes list with a net worth of $211.1 billion. The rest of the top five consisted of tech entrepreneurs. Elon Musk, the owner of various companies including Tesla and X, was second, followed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.

Readers can isolate names on the Forbes billionaire list by country, industry , and age group.

Net worth isn't a fixed value. The value of assets and liabilities fluctuates and the number of billionaires in the world can change every day.

Fluctuating Net Worth

You may have noticed that the richest person on the planet changed frequently in certain periods. Often this is due to assets owned changing in valuation.

Fluctuating share prices are a prime cause of shifting net worths. A person's stake in a company can account for a big chunk of their assets and these stakes constantly change in value throughout the day.

If, for example, LVMH or Tesla's share price were to rally or plummet, this could have a big effect on Bernard Arnaut's or Elon Musk's net worth.

Which Countries Have the Most Billionaires?

In March 2023, the United States had the most billionaires with 735. China ranked second with 495, and India ranked third with 169.

Who Ranked First on Forbes' Original 1987 Billionaires List?

Yoshiaki Tsutsumi of Japan ranked first in 1987.

Who Are the Top 3 Billionaires in the United States?

The top three billionaires in the U.S., as of Feb. 16, 2024, are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg.

A billionaire has a net worth of at least one billion units in their native currency, such as dollars or euros. Net worth is calculated as assets minus liabilities or debts. A billionaire's assets may include cash and cash equivalents, real estate, and business and personal property. Forbes has been ranking the world's billionaires since 1987. In 2023, the United States had the most billionaires globally.

Forbes. " Forbes History: The Original 1987 List of International Billionaires ."

Accounting Tools. " Net Worth Definition ."

XE.com. " 1,000,000,000 VEF to USD - Convert Venezuelan Bolívares to US Dollars ."

Forbes. " Forbes Billionaires 2023 ."

Forbes. " The World's Real-Time Billionaires ."

Forbes. " The Countries With the Most Billionaires and Their Richest Citizens 2023 ."

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Don Levin rolling papers

Zig-Zag is one of the brands under Don Levin's Republic umbrella. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

By Hannah Bryan Leaders Staff

Hannah Bryan

Hannah Bryan

News Writer

Hannah Bryan is a news writer for Leaders Media. Most recently she was a reporter for the Sanilac County News...

Learn about our editorial policy

Apr 21, 2023

Blazing a Path To Success With Rolling Papers

Billionaire Don Levin has made his fortune by capitalizing on an often-overlooked sector of the marijuana industry—rolling paper. 

Key Details

  • Levin owns popular rolling-paper brands such as E-Z Wider, Zig-Zag, OCB, and JOB. He also owns several factories that produce paper from hemp, wood, bamboo, and rice. 
  • His heavy investment in the paper industry has amassed him an estimated $1.7 billion, according to Forbes . 
  • The paper billionaire has spent his career quietly building an empire around the marijuana industry.
  • ​​“We’re the largest manufacturer of rolling papers in the world. We are the whole supply chain,” Levin says.

Why it’s news

While paper has long been considered a successful business with high profit margins, analysts studying the tobacco and marijuana industry have often struggled to understand its size and scope. Many paper mills are privately held in a supply chain that crosses the globe. 

Levin’s company Republic owns around one-third of the rolling paper market in North America. Wholesale sales across North America are estimated to be about $550 million yearly. Globally, those sales could be as much as $2 billion to $3 billion a year. While Levin has not confirmed his company’s financials, Republic brings in an estimated $650 million in revenue, Forbes reports. 

Though the billionaire has built a massive empire over his career, Levin remains humble and mindful of the workers who helped him create his business. 

“I’m certainly not the king of rolling papers,” he says. “This has been a lot of work by a lot of people, and for me to take credit would be wrong and insulting.”

Backing up a bit

Levin entered the business in the 1970s when he began selling rolling papers in a boutique shop. After a short time in the industry, Levin realized he could make more money as a distributor and began building his own supply chain. He became a distributor himself, selling rolling papers to smoke shops around the Midwest.

Through hard work, ingenuity, and a little luck, Levin built relationships with different suppliers worldwide and amassed a following of customers looking for specific products. Eventually, he began supplying various cannabis products like roach clips and bongs. 

By the end of the 1970s, Levin’s business was bringing in around $10 million in revenue, equivalent to $50 million today. The company took a hit in the next few years as the federal government began to crack down on cannabis paraphernalia. Levin reverted to selling exclusively rolling papers, Forbes reports. 

Levin continued building his empire, acquiring Odet-Cascadec-Bolloré (OCB) rolling papers in 2000. Shortly after, he purchased the paper mills, Papeteries du Léman and Papeteries des Vosges. With these new acquisitions, Levin now controlled the manufacturing of paper, the production of the booklets, and the distribution of the product. He was the entire supply chain.

Since then, Levin’s empire has ballooned as Republic acquired several other major paper brands. Republic now includes Top, Bali Shag, and E-Z Wider as some of its brands. 

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It’s ‘not financial analysis, it is finger painting’: Billionaire investor rips new paper that tells investors to only buy stocks

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Three finance professors have ruffled the feathers of one of Wall Street’s most vocal hedge fund managers with a new paper. “ Beyond the Status Quo: A Critical Assessment of Lifecycle Investment Advice ” estimates that “Americans could realize trillions of dollars in welfare gains” by adopting an “all-equity strategy” for their retirement savings. 

It’s a serious challenge to some bedrock principles of modern investing, particularly the idea that diversifying across asset classes, i.e. stocks and bonds, is the most logical choice for long-term investors. The paper’s authors, professors Aizhan Anarkulova of Emory University, Scott Cederburg of the University of Arizona, and Michael S. O’Doherty of the University of Missouri, came around to an all-stock investment strategy after reviewing the history of 38 developed markets between 1890 and 2019.

But Clifford Asness, the billionaire cofounder and chief investment officer of the world’s third-largest hedge fund, AQR Capital Management, isn’t buying it.

“Simply looking at historical results and urging investors to ‘buy the thing that’s gone up the most over the long term’ is not financial analysis, it is finger painting,” the Wall Street veteran, who definitely isn’t known for pulling his punches, argued in a Monday article titled “ Why Not 100% Equities .”

Asness had a few specific critiques of “Beyond the Status Quo”—but they aren’t really new. In fact, the hedge funder, known for his quant value strategies, has been battling arguments for 100% equity portfolios with “alacrity and panache” (his own words) since the 1990s. He even used the same title, “ Why Not 100% Equities ,” in 1996 to refute the findings of a paper that “presented strong evidence documenting the historical superiority of investing in 100% equities.”

According to Asness, the idea that investors should put all their financial eggs into one basket doesn’t account for a critical feature of financial markets: risk. “We (academics, practitioners, anyone who’s taken a cursory look at modern finance) prefer a diversified portfolio because we believe it has a higher return for the risk taken, not a higher expected return,” he explained.

The debate over risk-adjusted returns—and why leverage matters

That brings us to what the leading portfolio strategy of our era, modern portfolio theory (MPT),  sometimes calls “risk-adjusted returns.” When the Nobel Prize–winning economist Harry Markowitz first described the theory that spawned MPT in a paper called “Portfolio Selection” in the Journal of Finance in 1952, he argued that proper portfolio construction requires investors to analyze both return and risk. The theory gained a lot of traction, and today investors will often measure the return of their portfolio only after considering how much risk was taken to earn it.

This idea is used as the justification for diversifying into different asset classes with different risk profiles, and it has helped support the now-common belief that a portfolio allocated to 60% stocks and 40% bonds is the most logical option for most long-term investors. 

But there’s a caveat to MPT’s central tenet, which holds that risk-adjusted returns are superior to expected returns that don’t account for risk: Getting the best return often requires the use of leverage, and most retirement savers aren’t leveraging their portfolios. 

Even Asness explained: “If the best return-for-risk portfolio doesn’t have enough expected return for you, then you lever it (within reason). If it has too much risk for you, you de-lever it with cash. Remarkably this has been shown to work.”

He’s right that this tactic has been shown to work, but can it really be used by the average American? In a statement to Fortune , Anarkulova, Cederburg, and O’Doherty noted that their study focused on retirement savers, and the “vast majority” of these investors are not allowed or not able to use leverage.

“It is possible that some other portfolio could be levered up and be better than the all-equity strategy for hypothetical investors who are able to use leverage for their retirement savings,” they explained in written comments, adding that they will “examine these cases in the next version of the paper.”

But overall, the professors said that their analysis suggests “that any such portfolio will remain dominated by stocks and will not include much (if anything) in bonds for reasonable leverage levels.”

But don’t take the idea that leverage is necessary for MPT from the professors—take it from two principals at Asness’s own firm, AQR. In 2014, AQR’s Andrea Frazzini and Lasse Heje Pedersen explained in a paper that “many investors, such as individuals, pension funds, and mutual funds, are constrained in the leverage that they can take, and they therefore overweight risky securities instead of using leverage.” In other words, in order to get the gains you want using a portfolio designed for risk-adjusted returns, you might have to use leverage; and if you don’t, the lure of “risky” stocks with higher absolute returns is always there. That lure may be more of a siren song (Asness would likely argue so), but that’s up for debate.

Trillions in welfare gains?

So the disagreement over the use of diversified portfolios that maximize risk-adjusted returns may come down to leverage, something that is more commonly used by professional investors rather than your average Joe. But Asness also had a few other points of contention with this new paper worth addressing. 

The most important of these is the paper’s claim that by switching to 100% equity portfolios, U.S. retirees could get “trillions in welfare gains.”

Asness argued that there’s a flaw in the logic behind this idea. The claim that trillions of dollars are “being left on the table is really just non-economic hype” based on the incorrect assumption that there are “sidelines” in the investing world, he explained. Asness noted that stocks are always 100% owned, and in the world of finance, there are no sidelines, just investors holding different types of assets.

“If some investors read this ‘new’ paper and decide to buy more equities, they have to buy those equities from other investors. This can force the price up, and the expected future return down, but everyone can’t suddenly have double the normal amount of equity dollar return out of thin air,” he explained.

In response, the professors said that they “don’t disagree” that if all retirement savers switched to 100% stocks, “the additional demand for stocks would raise prices and lower expected returns,” which could alter the “optimal” portfolio to something other than 100% equities.

However, they offered a couple of explanations for their idea (I’ll let you judge their validity on your own). First, they claimed that retirement savers with 100% equity portfolios would be able to save more income annually than their peers with traditional diversified retirement portfolios (14% vs. 10%) due to increased market returns. That could offer a serious economic benefit of over $200 billion a year, they said.

Second, they argued that if most investors do not shift to the all-equity strategy, which is likely, then “those who do will get their portion of the benefit and overall stock prices aren’t likely to move too much so all-equity would remain a good strategy.”

Still, the professors admitted that they plan to remove the “trillions of dollars” line from their next draft of this paper. They concluded by saying: “it’s at least tough to argue with our simple point that the economic magnitudes of differences in strategy performance are large.” Make of that what you will.

Sampling issues?

Finally, Asness mentioned sampling bias as a potential issue with the “Beyond the Status Quo” paper. He claimed that rising valuations during the measured period have created an “overestimation” of the future performance of stocks. But the professors pushed back on this one, noting that they used data from 38 developed countries, for a sample period of over 100 years, and U.S. stocks only made up 5% of the data.

“We aren’t sure what to make of this criticism,” they wrote. “We carefully constructed our sample to mitigate the sort of lookahead bias that seems to be referred to in the comment… Our sample contains a very large amount of information about stock and bond performance with a variety of market conditions across countries and time, so we believe it provides investors with a balanced and comprehensive view of potential outcomes.”

Sampling issues aside, the debate over modern portfolio theory, as well as the validity of risk-adjusted returns and diversification, isn’t going anywhere soon. Asness argues that challenges to this conventional wisdom are a feature of periods of stock market outperformance.

“The bottom line is diversification works, theory works (eventually), owning one asset is suboptimal, extrapolating the winning country over a period of valuation increases is dangerous, finance 101 is actually helpful—and we’ll likely have to do this again after the next bull market,” he concluded.

Is he right? Well, I’ll leave that one up to you.

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  • A Millionaire's Profile
  • An Alternative Definition of Millionaire: Liquid Assets

    Multi-millionaire vs. millionaire, the bottom line, frequently asked questions (faqs).

    In the U.S., a millionaire is someone whose wealth (or net worth) is valued at $1 million or more.

    Today, the most common definition of a millionaire is a person or a married couple whose net worth is greater than $1 million. Under this classification, the number of millionaires around the world has multiplied over the past century.

    Despite inflation and subsequently weaker buying power, the U.S. dollar is the international measure for qualifying millionaires.

    For example, suppose you have assets totaling $1,400,000 ($1.4 million) and liabilities totaling $200,000. In that case, your net worth would be $1.2 million, meaning that you fit the definition of a millionaire.

    When considering whether someone is a millionaire, in most cases, you consider their net worth. According to a Spectrem Group Market Insights Report, there were 11.8 million Americans with a net worth of at least $1 million in 2019.

    A person's net worth is like a summary of the total financial value of their balance sheet. This concept represents a person's financial assets minus their liabilities. In other words, net worth is what they own minus what they owe.

    However, net worth includes the appraised value of all non-liquid assets, which are harder to liquidate (or sell) if needed. For this reason, there is some debate about whether the term "millionaire" should apply to people with total assets over $1 million or only to those with liquid assets in excess of $1 million.

    Categorizing millionaires is not straightforward when factoring in non-liquid assets. The price of consumer goods rises and falls; in an economic slump, it's unrealistic for assets like real estate and antiques to fetch full price on the market.

    Where the Term "Millionaire" Originates

    The term "millionaire" comes from French and was first used in 1786. It was used to describe the men who became rich off of speculative investments in North America. By the standards of the 18th century, a millionaire was someone who had amassed an unimaginable amount of wealth.

    In the wake of more than a century of inflation, $1 million hasn't retained the exceptional buying power it had in 1900. In 2022 dollars, it would be equivalent to about $34.8 million.

    A Millionaire's Profile

    By looking at a person's balance sheet and considering their assets and debts, we can figure out whether they have a net worth of at least $1 million. Suppose that John Doe has the following assets:

    • House: $350,000
    • Car: $10,000
    • Retirement fund: $600,000
    • Stocks: $80,000
    • Mutual funds: $100,000
    • Resale value of other non-liquid assets: $20,000
    • Cash: $10,000
    • Total assets: $1,170,000

    Also suppose that John Doe has these liabilities:

    • Mortgage: $120,000
    • Car loan: $5,000
    • Total liabilities: $125,000

    According to the formula for calculating net worth—what you own minus what you owe—John Doe is a millionaire. The value of John's assets equals $1.17 million, and his liabilities total $125,000. That means his total net worth (assets minus liabilities) is $1,045,000. Thus, John is a millionaire.

    Despite these numbers, some people may reject John's classification as a millionaire. Using an alternative approach to wealth classification and analysis, they argue that liquid assets (such as his cash, stocks, and mutual funds) are the one true qualification for millionaire status. According to this definition, the value of John's home, car, and personal belongings (such as antiques) should not count toward his millionaire status because John would be unlikely or unable to liquidate, or sell, all his assets for cash, even if he wanted to do so.

    Even if they were to go to market, John's antiques may fetch unpredictable resale prices, and valuable artwork and collectibles are difficult to sell quickly. Of course, John can have these assets appraised and can use them to finance a big purchase, but he doesn't have the liquid assets necessary to be called a millionaire by this definition.

    Some people would also exclude the value of John's retirement account from consideration. That's because those assets are protected from bankruptcy filings. If his retirement savings are left out of the equation, John would not be considered a millionaire.

    The difference between a multi-millionaire and a millionaire comes down to the numbers.

    A multi-millionaire would be someone who has several million USD when their net worth is considered. A decamillionaire , more specifically, is someone who has between $10 million and $99.99 million.

    John Doe may or may not be a millionaire, depending on which definition you use to evaluate his financial situation. However, no matter how you consider his net worth, it's significantly higher than that of the median American family.

    Key Takeaways

    • A millionaire is someone whose net worth is equal to one million (or more) units of currency, usually the U.S. dollar.
    • To know whether a person is a millionaire, you typically consider their net worth, or the total value of their assets minus liabilities.
    • Some people argue that millionaires should be defined by only liquid assets, not the value of their real estate, vehicles, and personal belongings.

    Who is considered a millionaire?

    Someone is considered a millionaire when their net worth, or their assets minus their liabilities, totals $1 million or more. Another school of thought argues that only liquid assets like cash and securities should count toward status as a millionaire because assets like real estate, vehicles, and antiques are more difficult to sell for cash if needed.

    Is a millionaire considered rich?

    For most people, the answer is probably yes, a millionaire is considered rich. The median net worth of U.S. families in 2019 was $121,700, according to the most recent data available from the Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances. That’s significantly less than a net worth of $1 million.

    Want to read more content like this?  Sign up  for The Balance’s newsletter for daily insights, analysis, and financial tips, all delivered straight to your inbox every morning!

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    • BOOK REVIEW
    • 12 February 2024

    The ‘Bill Gates problem’: do billionaire philanthropists skew global health research?

    • Andy Stirling 0

    Andy Stirling is a professor of science and technology policy at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, UK.

    You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

    You have full access to this article via your institution.

    Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2024.

    Bill Gates and other wealthy individuals who spend vast sums on research often back some types of solution over others. Credit: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu/Getty

    The Bill Gates Problem: Reckoning with the Myth of the Good Billionaire Tim Schwab Metropolitan Books (2023)

    Global wealth, power and privilege are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few hyper-billionaires. Some, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, come across as generous philanthropists. But, as investigative journalist Tim Schwab shows in his latest book, charitable foundations led by billionaires that direct vast amounts of money towards a narrow range of selective ‘solutions’ might aggravate global health and other societal issues as much as they might alleviate them.

    In The Bill Gates Problem , Schwab explores this concern compellingly with a focus on Gates, who co-founded the technology giant Microsoft in 1975 and set up the William H. Gates Foundation (now the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) in 1994. The foundation spends billions of dollars each year (US$7 billion in 2022) on global projects aimed at a range of challenges, from improving health outcomes to reducing poverty — with pledges totalling almost $80 billion since its inception.

    Schwab offers a counterpoint to the prevailing popular narrative , pointing out how much of the ostensible generosity of philanthropists is effectively underwritten by taxpayers. In the United States, for example, 100,000 private foundations together control close to $1 trillion in assets. Yet up to three-quarters of these funds are offset against tax. US laws also require only sparse scrutiny of how charities spend this money.

    is a paper billionaire

    CRISPR-edited crops break new ground in Africa

    Had that tax been retained, Schwab reasons, the government might have invested it in more diverse and accountable ways. Instead, the dispersal of these funds is being driven mainly by the personal interests of a handful of super-rich individuals. By entrenching particular pathways and sidelining others, philanthropy is restricting progress towards the global Sustainable Development Goals by limiting options (see also strings.org.uk ).

    Many Gates foundation programmes are shaped and evaluated using data from the US Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which was founded — and is lavishly funded — by the foundation. Schwab suggests that such arrangements could be considered conflicts of interest, because in-house ‘evaluations’ often tend to justify current projects. In the case of malaria, for instance, the numbers of bed nets distributed in tropical countries — a metric tracked by the IHME — can become a proxy for lives saved. Such circularity risks exaggerating the efficiency of programmes that aim to tackle high-profile diseases, including HIV/AIDS, potentially at the expense of other treatable conditions for which solutions might remain unexplored (see also Philip Stevens’s 2008 book Fighting the Diseases of Poverty ).

    Limited scope

    Similarly restricted views exist in other areas, too. In the energy sector, for instance, Gates flouts comparative performance trends to back exorbitantly expensive nuclear power instead of much more affordable, reliable and rapidly improving renewable sources and energy storage. In agriculture, grants tend to support corporate-controlled gene-modification programmes instead of promoting farmer-driven ecological farming, the use of open-source seeds or land reform. African expertise in many locally adapted staples is sidelined in favour of a few supposedly optimized transnational commodity crops.

    Furthermore, the Gates foundation’s support for treatments that offer the best chances of accumulating returns on intellectual property risks eclipsing the development of preventive public-health solutions, Schwab notes. For example, the foundation promotes contraceptive implants that control women’s fertility, instead of methods that empower women to take control over their own bodies. Similarly, the foundation often backs for-profit, Internet-based education strategies rather than teacher-led initiatives that are guided by local communities.

    Throughout its history, the Gates foundation’s emphasis on ‘accelerating’ innovations and ‘scaling up’ technologies, as noted on its website ( gatesfoundation.org ), obscures real-world uncertainties and complexities, and ignores the costs of lost opportunities. For example, Gates’s aim to eradicate polio is laudable. But pharma-based actions are slow — and can come at the expense of practical solutions for less ‘glamorous’ yet serious scourges, such as dirty water, air pollution or poor housing conditions.

    A Kenyan health worker prepares to administer a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to her colleagues, Nairobi.

    Transparency is scarce on whether charitable investments in vaccine companies might benefit philanthropists or their contacts. Credit: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty

    Thus, by promoting interventions associated with the technological processes of extraction, concentration and accumulation that underpinned his own corporate success, Gates helps to tilt the playing field. His foundation tends to neglect strategies built on economic redistribution, institutional reform, cultural change or democratic renewal. Yet in areas such as public health, disaster resilience and education, respect for diverse strategies, multifaceted views, collective action and open accountability could be more effective than the type of technology-intensive, profit-oriented, competitive individualism that Gates favours.

    Schwab traces the origins of this ‘Gates problem’ to the 1990s. At that time, he writes, Gates faced hearings in the US Congress that challenged anti-competitive practices at Microsoft and was lampooned as a “monopoly nerd” in the animated sitcom The Simpsons for his proclivity to buy out competitors. By setting up the Gates foundation, he pulled off a huge communications coup — rebranding himself from an archetypal acquisitive capitalist to an iconic planetary saviour by promoting stories of the foundation’s positive impact in the media.

    is a paper billionaire

    Genetic modification can improve crop yields — but stop overselling it

    Yet since then, Schwab shows, Gates has pursued a charitable monopoly similar to the one he built in the corporate world. He has shown that in philanthropy — just as in business — concentrated power can manufacture ‘success’ by skewing news coverage, absorbing peers and neutralizing oversight. For instance, Schwab documents how the voices of some non-governmental organizations, academia and news media have been muted because they depend on Gates’s money. While dismissing “unhinged conspiracy theories” about Gates, he describes a phenomenon that concerned activists and researchers call the “Bill chill”. By micromanaging research and dictating methods of analysis, the foundation effectively forces scientists to go down one path — towards the results and conclusions that the charity might prefer.

    These issues are exacerbated by Gates applying the same energy that he used in business to coax huge sums from other celebrity donors, which further concentrates the kinds of innovation that benefit from such funding. But Schwab has found that transparency is scarce on whether or how Gates’s private investments or those of his contacts might benefit from his philanthropy. Questions arise over the presence of people with personal ties to Gates or the foundation on the board of start-up companies funded by the charity, for example.

    Bigger picture

    One minor gripe with the book is that although Schwab excels in forensically recounting the specific circumstances of Gates’s charitable empire, he is less clear on the wider political forces at work or the alternative directions for transformation that have been potentially overlooked. Schwab often implies that Gates’s altruism is insincere and rightly critiques the entrepreneur’s self-serving “colonial mindset” (see, for example, S. Arora and A. Stirling Environ. Innov. Soc. Transit. 48 , 100733; 2023 ). But in this, Gates is a product of his circumstances. As Schwab writes, “the world needs Bill Gates’s money. But it doesn’t need Bill Gates”. Yet maybe the real problem lies less in the man than in the conditions that produced him. A similar ‘tech bro’ could easily replace Gates.

    is a paper billionaire

    The challenges facing scientists in the elimination of malaria

    Perhaps what is most at issue here is not the romanticized intentions of a particular individual, but the general lack of recognition for more distributed and collective political agency. And more than any single person’s overblown ego, perhaps it is the global forces of appropriation, extraction and accumulation that drive the current hyper-billionaire surge that must be curbed (see also A. Stirling Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 58 , 101239; 2019 ).

    Resolution of the Bill Gates problem might need a cultural transformation. Emphasis on equality, for instance, could be more enabling than billionaire-inspired idealizations of superiority. Respect for diversity might be preferable to philanthropic monopolies that dictate which options and values count. Precautionary humility can be more valuable than science-based technocratic hubris about ‘what works’. Flourishing could serve as a better guiding aim than corporate-shaped obsessions with growth. Caring actions towards fellow beings and Earth can be more progressive than urges to control. If so, Schwab’s excellent exposé of hyper-billionaire ‘myths’ could yet help to catalyse political murmurations towards these more collective ends.

    Nature 626 , 477-479 (2024)

    doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00394-0

    Competing Interests

    The author declares no competing interests.

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    Meet the typical millionaire: They're over 55, have a house worth nearly 7 figures, and are probably moving to Scottsdale

    • America's millionaires are older, college-educated, and white.
    • They have some pretty valuable houses and stock holdings.
    • They're also flocking to cities such as Austin, Miami, and Scottsdale, Arizona.

    Insider Today

    Who wants to be a millionaire ? Probably lots of Americans — but members of the rarefied club are likely to be white, older, and college-educated.

    America's millionaires are flocking to cities such as Austin, Miami, and Scottsdale , Arizona. They're also making a return to New York City after a pandemic hiatus as lower-earning New Yorkers decide to leave.

    But who are the members of America's seven-figure club? There are a lot of them, and their ranks have grown over the past few years; The Wall Street Journal found that 16 million American families held wealth of more than $1 million. Using the Federal Reserve Bank's Survey of Consumer Finances 2022 individual-level data, we took a look at the millionaires of America.

    Millionaires — those who have a net worth of at least $1 million —are, perhaps not surprisingly, on the older end. They're predominantly 55 and older; just 2.4% are under the age of 35. Older Gen Xers and boomers have the millionaire market particularly cornered, with more than a quarter of millionaires in the 55 to 64 range.

    Millionaires are also very likely to hold at least a college degree, with three-quarters of them having completed college. Under 1% of millionaires didn't finish high school or a GED.

    And many millionaires have additional post-secondary education: According to BI's analysis, about 21% of millionaires hold a master's degree, and just under 17% hold a doctorate or professional school degree.

    Millionaires are also mostly white, showcasing yet another example of racial wealth gaps in the US. Nearly 86% of millionaires are white. That's not constrained to just millionaires: According to the Federal Reserve , a typical white family's wealth dwarfs that of typical Black and Hispanic families, with the white family's wealth six and five times higher, respectively.

    Millionaires are also predominantly homeowners, with about 95% owning houses. The average value of a millionaire's home is $982,938, suggesting many are real-estate rich — especially older millionaires who've had time to grow their home equity.

    Similarly, about 47% of millionaires hold stocks; on average, they own $949,248 in stock. Meanwhile, about 35% of millionaires hold stock mutual funds. On average, those stock mutual funds are worth $996,663. They're also socking away a good amount for retirement, with an average total value of $452,491 in individual retirement accounts or Keogh plans, which are retirement plans for those who are self-employed .

    That makes sense when it comes to how America's wealthy derive and hold wealth; those with ultra-high net worths like to park their money into equities and invest in stock and real estate . That composition of wealth has become one issue for politicians who have tried to hike taxes on America's wealthy .

    More than a third of millionaires have a business that they either actively or non-actively manage. Those businesses are, on average, worth $3,304,674. Businesses that millionaires actively manage are worth $2,784,236 on average; ones that they don't actively manage are worth $520,438.

    And millionaires do like to splurge on some of the things you'd expect. Roughly 94% of them own a car. About 40% own two cars, and about 18% own three cars. They're also splashing out on eating out and eating at home. On average, they spend $5,286 on food away from home annually; they're also spending about $548 on average on food delivered to their houses.

    But, like many Americans, millionaires are also spending a lot on groceries: an average of $9,904 annually.

    is a paper billionaire

    Watch: Self-made millionaires read biographies of other successful people to increase their wealth

    is a paper billionaire

    • Main content

    OpenAI’s Sora video-generating model can render video games, too

    is a paper billionaire

    OpenAI’s new — and first! — video-generating model, Sora , can pull off some genuinely impressive cinematographic feats. But the model’s even more capable than OpenAI initially made it out to be, at least judging by a technical paper published this evening.

    The paper, titled “Video generation models as world simulators,” co-authored by a host of OpenAI researchers, peels back the curtains on key aspects of Sora’s architecture — for instance revealing that Sora can generate videos of an arbitrary resolution and aspect ratio (up to 1080p). Per the paper, Sora’s able to perform a range of image and video editing tasks, from creating looping videos to extending videos forwards or backwards in time to changing the background in an existing video.

    But most intriguing to this writer is Sora’s ability to “simulate digital worlds,” as the OpenAI co-authors put it. In an experiment, OpenAI fed Sora prompts containing the word “Minecraft” and had it render a convincingly Minecraft-like HUD and game — and the game’s dynamics, including physics — while simultaneously controlling the player character.

    OpenAI Sora can simulate Minecraft I guess. Maybe next generation game console will be "Sora box" and games are distributed as 2-3 paragraphs of text. pic.twitter.com/9BZUIoruOV — Andrew White (@andrewwhite01) February 16, 2024

    So how’s Sora able to do this? Well, as observed by senior Nvidia researcher Jim Fan ( via Quartz ), Sora’s more of a “data-driven physics engine” than a creative too. It’s not just generating a single photo or video, but determining the physics of each object in an environment — and rendering a photo or video (or interactive 3D world, as the case may be) based on these calculations.

    “These capabilities suggest that continued scaling of video models is a promising path towards the development of highly-capable simulators of the physical and digital world, and the objects, animals and people that live within them,” the OpenAI co-authors write.

    Now, Sora’s usual limitations apply in the video game domain. The model can’t accurately approximate the physics of basic interactions like glass shattering. And even with interactions it  can model, Sora’s often inconsistent — for example rendering a person eating a burger but failing to render bite marks.

    Still, if I’m reading the paper correctly, it seems Sora could pave the way for more realistic — perhaps even photorealistic — procedurally generated games from text descriptions alone. That’s in equal parts exciting and terrifying (consider the deepfake implications, for one) — which is probably why OpenAI’s choosing to gate Sora behind a very limited access program for now.

    Here’s hoping we learn more sooner rather than later.

    OpenAI’s newest model Sora can generate videos — and they look decent

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