US Census BureauThe current issue of the popular Forbes magazine presents data and facts which are revealing, if not intriguing.

Its cover story focuses on the world’s richest people, all billionaires. It reports, among others, that this year, there are 1,426 billionaires, “who control the world.”

The US Census Bureau projected that the world had a population of 7.07 billion as of March 26, 2013. If the Forbes report is true, we could say that the 1,426 billionaires “control” the 7.07 billion people on earth in terms of wealth and resources.

What may be considered intriguing to many people is Forbes report that there are 122 billionaires in China. Yes, it is in China. In fact, it has the biggest number of billionaires in Asia.

It is unbelievable that there are Chinese billionaires. It is unbelievable because China is a communist country. For decades, the communists had long abhorred capitalism, which is supposed to be an unjust system because, according to leftist ideologists, it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

How come China now has billionaires?

Well, the truth of the matter is that after Mao Tse Tung died, China has been gradually inching its way to capitalism. Its march towards a market-oriented economy started in the 1960s when Mao devolved economic powers on to the provincial and municipal governments.

Nobel Prize-winning author Ronald Coase and Professor Ning Wang, author of the book “How China Became Capitalist,” noted that “as early as 1956, even before China’s first Five-Year Plan (1953–1957) ended, Mao realized centralization of power in the Chinese economy had dampened the incentives of local officials as well as those of the state enterprises in cities and communes and production teams in rural areas.”

Subsequent reforms allowed the private sector to engage in businesses and, later, led to the privatization of many government companies.

Many of the big companies in China are still owned and operated by the government, but these are now regular stock companies with their shares traded in the stock market. People can invest their savings in shares of stocks of these companies.

All these indicate that the old communist economic system has been abandoned and replaced with capitalism. And this has become the springboard for the great economic lift of China in the 21st century. The thriving Chinese economy is now driven by an open market of goods.

The Chinese capitalist model is now being replicated by Vietnam, another communist country. In fact, for the first time in the history of Forbes magazine, a Vietnamese is on the list of the world’s billionaires. He is Pham Nhat Vuong, 44 years old, who initially made his pile in Ukraine where he opened a Vietnamese restaurant with ramen noodles as its main menu. Pham now owns a multi-million-dollar mall-hotel complex in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon. The only Vietnamese on the list, Pham is at No. 974 with the value of his assets placed at $1.5 billion.

In term of numbers, the Filipinos beat the Vietnamese. Of the world’s 1,426 billionaires, 11 of them are Filipinos. But while it is true that they are Filipinos, most of them have Chinese blood.

The richest Filipino is 88-year-old Henry Sy, who is the head of the SM business empire consisting mostly of giant SM malls. At present, there are 46 SM malls all over the Philippines and five in China. Nine more SM malls will be built in the Philippines this year and next year.

Sy is at No. 68 on the Forbes list with his family’s assets valued at $13 billion. Mexican Carlos Slim Helu, who is at No. 1 on the list with his assets value placed at $73 billion, is $60 billion richer than Sy.

Sy started small, setting up a Shoemart department store on Carriedo St., Quiapo, Manila in the early 1960s. His first branch was located on Aurora Blvd., Cubao, Quezon City. At first, the two stores sold only Marikina-made shoes and other leather products.

At present, the biggest SM mall is the Mall of Asia (MOA), which is located on a reclaimed area in Paranaque City near Manila Bay. Recently, it built a big coliseum where PBA games are now being held.

The second wealthiest Filipino is Lucio Tan, who is at No. 248 on the Forbes list with his assets valued at $5 billion. He owns various companies, including Fortune Tobacco Corp., Philippine Airlines, Philippine National Bank, Allied Bank and Asia Brewery.

The other Filipinos on the list are Enrique Razon, Jr., No. 258, $4.9 billion; Andrew Tan, majority owner of realty firm Megaworld Corp., No. 345, $3.95 billion; George Ty and family, No. 554, $2.6 billion; Lucio and Susan Co, No. 704, owner of Pure Gold chain of malls, $2 billion; Roberto Coyiuto, Jr., No. 931, stock broker and majority owner of National Grid Corp., $1.6 billion; Tony Tan Caktiong, No. 1031, owner of Joliebee Foods which has 2,000 fast-food stores in the Philippine and 541 overseas, $1.4 billion; and Andrew Gotianun and family and Roberto Ongpin, both at No. 1175, $1.2 billion.

The United States maintains its distinction of having the most number of billionaires. It has 442 billionaires, who include Bill Gates who is at No. 2 on the list with his assets valued at $63 billion.

This shows that the US economic system is still the best when it comes to making piles and piles of money.

But how rich are the billionaires?

Carbon beach near Los Angeles, California is where some billionaires live. Forbes magazine reports that the price of land in the area may yet be most expensive in the world — $200,000 per square foot.

Wow! That is higher than the price of a regular, middle-class house-and-lot here in Michigan.

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