When we think of oligarchs, we think of rich Russians.
But ‘oligarchy’ is an ancient term, referring to any country whose government is ruled by a few wealthy, usually corrupt or selfish individuals.
Modern oligarchies include Russia, China, and America.
General Oligarchs Statistics and Facts
The disparity between the very richest in our global society and the rest of us (commonly referred to as the 1% and 99% respectively) is maddeningly stark.
The vast majority of the wealth available globally is held by just a tiny handful of individuals; people we know today as oligarchs.
Let’s look at some general oligarchs’ statistics and facts:
- The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first person to use the term oligarchy (oligarchia) to designate the rule of the few when exercised for personal gain
- The net worth of the world’s billionaire oligarchs increased from less than $1 trillion in 2000 to over $12.7 trillion in 2022
- Since 2014, the vast majority of oligarchs in the Forbes Top 100 Richest People list (published annually) have been from the United States of America
- In 2022, there are 34 fewer Russian billionaire oligarchs than there were last year, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
- In 2022, there are 87 fewer Chinese billionaire oligarchs than there were last year, following the Chinese government’s crackdown on tech companies
- China has been described as an oligarchy since it embraced capitalism in the 1970s
- Russia has been considered an oligarchy since the fall of the USSR in 1991
- The United States of America (USA) is now often also considered an oligarchy for the immense inequality and disparity existing in the distribution of wealth in that country
- America (USA) has the most oligarchs in the world, with 735 billionaires worth a collective $4.7 trillion
- China has the second most number of oligarchs in the world, with 607 billionaires worth a collective $2.3 trillion
- The personal net worth of oligarchs can often fluctuate considerably from year to year because most oligarchs store their wealth in publicly-traded stocks and shares
- The wealthiest oligarch in the world right now is Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, worth $219 billion; he is closely followed by fellow American oligarch Jeff Bezos, founder and executive chair at Amazon, worth $188 billion
- Only around 2,750 billionaires control over 3.5% of the entire world’s wealth, though in countries considered oligarchies their oligarchs can hold much more of the national wealth.
- In America, for example, the wealthiest 1% of citizens owned 38.5% of the country’s wealth
- In 2022, many countries around the world imposed strict economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs, in a unilateral move aimed at pushing back against Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of, and war in, Ukraine
Oligarchs by Country Statistics
There are many, many oligarchs living in different countries all around the world.
Their huge stockpiles of money and resources allow them to directly influence the governments in control of their countries, so much so that some countries around the world are considered oligarchies: nations run by a few elite wealthy individuals for personal gain.
United States of America
- The USA has the largest number of billionaire oligarchs in the entire world
- Since 1991 (except for a stretch from 2010 to 2013) the richest oligarch in the world has always been American
- America is still officially recognized as a democratic country but is increasingly being viewed as an oligarchy due to the disparity of wealth between its citizens, and its status as the country with the most billionaires and oligarchs
- Elon Musk (Tesla) is the wealthiest American oligarch (and wealthiest oligarch in the world) with a net worth of $219 billion
- Jeff Bezos (Amazon) was the wealthiest American oligarch for a long time and is now the second wealthiest oligarch in the world, his net worth is $171 billion
- Bill Gates (Microsoft) remains high up on the Forbes list of the wealthiest oligarchs in the world with a net worth of $129 billion
- Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook/Meta) fell from the Forbes Top 10 Billionaires list in 2022 for the first time since 2016 after a poor year for the company’s annual report
- China was for a long time considered a Communist state, ruled by the people for the people (though in practice this was far from the truth). Today, however, it is thought of as an oligarchy due to the embrace of capitalism in the 1970s
- Much of China’s wealth rests in industry and technology outsourced to the giant nation by other powers around the world
- TikTok (ByteDance) former CEO and chairman Zhang Yiming is one of the wealthiest men in China with a net worth of $50 billion
- Russia was (like China) considered a Communist state, from its inception in 1917 to its fall in 1991, but is now deemed an oligarchy due to the obviously corrupt nature of its governmental leadership and its reliance on the leadership of the wealthy elite
- Alisher Usmanov is Russia’s wealthiest oligarch, and reportedly Vladimir Putin’s ‘favorite’. He has huge shares in iron, steel, and telecoms, but also gave the world Facebook thanks to his investments in the fledgling company back in 2009 which amounted to $900 million over the years
- Brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg were appointed heads of major national enterprises by Putin when he attained power, following their friendship with the premier in their youth
Despite Russia’s association with oligarchy, the country has only 2 citizens on the top 100 list of billionaires published by Forbes in 2022, compared to the USA’s 27
Oligarchs hold a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth compared to the relatively tiny number of them alive today.
With their wealth, they exert power over the rest of us. Russia, China, Iran, and the USA are considered oligarchies.