Despite economic outlook, we're still fascinated by the super-rich

Warren Buffett (L) and Bill Gates.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: All right, so riddle me this: Does Donald Trump really belong on the list of the super-rich? And why are the names of some multi-billionaires missing from the popular rankings we get every year from Forbes magazine?

If questions like that lurk in the back of your mind, we may soon be getting a second opinion when it comes to who's ultra-wealthy, and who's not. Bloomberg News has just hired away the long time editor of the Forbes 400. And Bloomberg's said to be planning its own rankings as soon as next year.

But is this is really such a good time to be focusing on the rich? Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: Even one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffett, has been sensitive to his high-flying status, given the tough times facing the average wage earner.

Warren Buffett: He's been on a treadmill while the super-rich have been on a spaceship.

So why would Bloomberg News think now's the time to emphasize its coverage of the rich?

Jim Taylor: You would think that during the economic downtimes, there'd be less of a concern about the wealthy, or in fact negative feelings, anger or frustration toward the wealthy.

And you'd be wrong, says University of San Francisco psychologist Jim Taylor. He says from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to the fictional Carringtons of Dynasty, we've always been fascinated by the rich -- maybe even more so now.

Taylor: Escapism, fantasy, wishful thinking does, however unrealistically, provide some relief and comfort for people during these very difficult times.

Taylor says Americans have always been interested in who's made it and how they got there. Which is why the Wall Street Journal, too, has a writer focused on the wealthy, Robert Frank.

Robert Frank: Bill Gates is worth more than some small countries, and Mark Zuckerberg is 26 years old and already worth about, you know, whether it's $6 billion or $8 billion or $12 billion -- more than probably anyone his age has ever been worth. That tells the story of our times, in a way that we've never seen in history.

Frank expects Bloomberg to put special emphasis on global rankings, where he says emerging wealth holds its own fascination.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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