Lies, statistics and the ultra rich

Douwe Osinga
2 min readJan 20, 2024

Every year during the gathering of the world leaders in Davos, Oxfam comes out with a report about how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It’s good timing and press repeats the conclusion in capitals. This year the claim was: World’s five richest men double their money as poorest get poorer.

I decided to read it. The sources it is based on, the Forbes Billionaires list and the Credit Suisse’s World Wealth Report are impeccable enough. Oxfam’s conclusions less so.

Start with the World’s five richest men double their money. Taken literally true, but if you want to look at inequality, you should compare todays richest men with the richest men in 2020 — of course today’s richest men did well, that’s how they ended up in the top 5.

Secondly, the World Wealth Report isn’t out for 2023 (expected in August). So the data on the world’s poorest is rather convolutedly put together. Finally, using 2020 as a baseline seems arbitrary and smells like cherry-picking.

What’s the founder of a spreadsheet company to do? Indeed. Write some code to get the data into a spreadsheet and have a look. If you want to see if the richest 5 are increasing their share, we should probably look at just that — the faction of all wealth in the world owned by the richest 5 people. From 2000 (earliest I could get data) it looks like this:

Percentage of wealth held by the richest 10 or 5 people

2021 and 2022 do seem historically high, but the lines seem mostly flat-ish. And this doesn’t have 2023, a year where the richest 5 people lost 10% of their wealth — where’s the headline, record number of billionaires no longer able to afford private planes.

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for the suggestion that the super-rich command an ever increasing fraction of the total wealth. You can still think they are too rich, but it is not something new.

Here’s the spreadsheet with the underlying data. If you have the Neptyne Python Add-on installed, you can open the code editor and see how it imports data from Wikipedia’s The World’s Billionaires. There’s another function that does the interpolation of the wealth data, but apart from that it is all straight up spreadsheet.



Douwe Osinga

Entrepreneur, Coding enthusiast and co-founder of Neptyne, the programmable spreadsheet