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Is Carlos Slim good for Mexico?

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Kai Ryssdal: Microsoft founder Bill Gates woke up this morning in an unusual situation. For the first time in what seems like forever, actually, Gates is number two on the list of the world’s richest people. Forbes Magazine says Mexican businessman Carlos Slim is number one. He’s got a net worth north of $53 billion. Ahead of Gates by a couple hundred million. It’s the first time in almost 20 years that somebody outside the United States has topped the list.

Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler reports.

JEFF TYLER: Carlos Slim has his fingers in just about every pie in Mexico.

Luisa Kroll is senior editor at Forbes and co-edits their billionaire’s list.

LUISA Kroll: In terms of Mexico, he is it.

Carlos Slim owns grocery stores, banks, restaurants and controls the mobile phone industry in Mexico. In this country, Slim owns about a quarter of The New York Times.

Kroll says Slim doesn’t flaunt his wealth, often eating at Sanborns, a chain of diners he owns. It’s like Bill Gates eating at Denny’s everyday.

Kroll: Being the richest guy in Mexico, you don’t necessarily want to be living such a high lifestyle.

Back in 2007, Slim was making about $27 million each day while most Mexicans survived on $2 a day. Critics call him a robber baron and compare him to John D. Rockefeller.

Professor George Grayson at the College of William and Mary in Virginia says monopolists like Slim have been unhealthy for Mexico’s growth.

GEORGE Grayson: If you compare Mexico to the human body, its arteries are just clogged. And that clogging is done by monopolies and oligopolies, of which Slim has one of the largest.

He says Slim’s dominance distorts the market, making it harder for other entrepreneurs to climb the ladder. But another developing nation could soon dominate the who’s who of world wealth. According to Forbes, there are 64 billionaires in China, more than any place outside the U.S.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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