Elon Musk is $ 5 billion away from being the richest person in history

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On Monday, Elon Musk ended the day with a net worth of $ 335 billion. He is by far the richest person in the world, surpassing Person No. 2 – Jeff Bezos – by around $ 140 billion. With those numbers in mind, here is a statement that some people will find controversial:

If Elon Musk’s net worth increases by $ 5 billion + one dollar, he’ll be the richest person in history.

In other words, if at some point in the future we see Elon sitting on a personal fortune of $ 340 billion (plus $ 1), he will be the richest person who has ever lived on earth.

Why is this statement controversial? Two reasons:

# 1: the richest person in modern history?

Thanks, at least in part, to an article I personally wrote in 2012, most people generally agree that the richest person in modern history is Standard Oil’s founder, John D. Rockefeller.

Rockefeller is proven to be the first person to ever have actual (even unadjusted or estimated) personal wealth of $ 1 billion. His net worth peaked at $ 1.5 billion. At the time of his death in 1937, he was worth roughly $ 900 million for having transferred large fortunes to his own philanthropic foundation over the last decade.

Now, if you use an inflation adjustment calculator with the figure $ 1.5 billion and the approximate year 1935, you end up with about $ 30 billion. How is John D. viewed as the richest person of all time?

If you recalculate Rockefeller’s net worth by considering his wealth as a percentage of American GDP and various other factors (such as the gold standard at the time), it is not unscientific to drastically increase Rockefeller’s estimated current net worth. In general, the most common number historians use for the inflation-adjusted net worth of John D. Rockefeller is …

$ 340 billion

With that number, Elon Musk is $ 5 billion (plus $ 1) away from being the richest person in modern history. Elon has already surpassed Andrew Carnegie’s $ 310 billion inflation-adjusted net worth, which was the second-largest fortune in modern history for just over 100 years.

Why is my original statement controversial? Because some would say it’s been nearly a decade since our estimate of $ 340 billion was published. Today you can find estimates that base Rockefeller’s net worth, adjusted for inflation, at up to $ 400 billion.

Wikipedia’s list of the richest historical figures places John D. Rockefeller # 1 with an asset range of $ 318 billion to $ 420 billion. One important red flag for the Wikipedia list, however, is that it doesn’t even include Elon Musk …

So who could buy more things in their life? Some guy in 1935 who was $ 1.5 billion? Or some guy in 2021 who’s over $ 300 billion? It’s extremely difficult to say, but I’ll stick with the generally accepted estimate of $ 340 billion. That means Elon Musk is $ 5 billion (plus $ 1) away from being the richest person ever. And for what it’s worth … not that I like to refer to her, but … Forbes has already declared Elon the richest person in history.

Via Getty Images / public domain

# 2: the richest person in human history?

The second reason my earlier statement might be considered controversial is that there are several historical figures outside of modern history who have been extremely wealthy.

For example, how do you calculate the modern equivalent of the net worth of William the Conqueror? William, who lived from 1028 to 1087, made unimaginable fortunes when he invaded England in 1066 and then conquered pretty much all of England. The inflation-adjusted number you typically see for William the Conqueror is $ 300 billion.

Then there is Mansa Musa.

Mansa Musa. Also known as Musa I of Mali, he was born about 200 years after the death of William the Conqueror. When he became the 10th Emperor of Mali, Mansa Musa built the most lucrative salt and gold production systems in the world.

When we published our first estimate of Mansa Musa’s net worth in 2012, we estimated his modern net worth at $ 400 billion. That would easily secure his place as the richest person of all time.

Rudolph Ware, a history professor at the University of Michigan, told CNN back in 2015 that Musa’s wealth was so immense that the people of his day struggled to describe his wealth. As Rudolph put it:

This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen. There are pictures of him holding a golden scepter on a golden throne, holding a mug with cold and a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human could own and double it up. This is what all accounts are trying to communicate.

On the other hand…

It is almost impossible to pinpoint the wealth of a person who lived 700 years ago. It is just as difficult to match this fortune to a modern equivalent.

Then there is King Solomon.

Every time we write an article about the richest people ever, someone comes up via email to complain that we didn’t put King Solomon at number 1. If the biblical legend of King Solomon is to be believed, he was the richest person of all time, with today’s equivalent of trillions of dollars.

Here’s the problem with King Solomon: there is actually no actual evidence that he ever existed. It’s just not 100% that there ever was a real King Solomon, or that he had any wealth at all. If he existed, there is definitely no solid evidence that his net worth was actually big enough to make him the richest person of all time.

A British historian named Ralph Ellis has studied the legend of King Solomon for over thirty years. He believes the legend is a complete myth. Ellis believes that Solomon is an amalgamation of several Egyptian pharaohs, perhaps most specifically a pharaoh named Shoshenq I, who was the ruler of Egypt and Israel in the 10th centuryNS Century B.C. That is 1,000 years before Jesus walked the earth.

Another British historian named Kenneth Kitchen believes that Solomon existed. Kitchen estimates that Solomon could have amassed $ 20 billion in net worth, adjusted for inflation. A very formidable fortune, no doubt, but clearly not enough to make him the richest person of all time.

We’ll keep an eye on Elon’s net worth and let you know if he officially becomes the richest person ever!

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