The American writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once said 'Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.' And so it is that every year we are reminded of the disparity when the prominent business publication known as Forbes Magazine lists its annual ranking of the world's billionaires. There is a record number this year of these fabulously wealthy people.
It's a Who's Who of who earned the most, and how much they are worth that is almost too much to fathom. Forbes Associate Editor Luisa Kroll says she was surprised by the number of new, young, self-made billionaires on the list.
"China had its first young self-made billionaire, a guy who is only 35-years-old, Wong Kwong Yu, who made his fortune in appliance retailing, obviously taking advantage of that country's growing middle class," says Luisa Kroll.
A growing number of urban Chinese who've made their fortunes in business are dressed for success these days. If they want to refurbish their apartments, they might consult another billionaire on Forbes' list, American home decorating expert Martha Stewart, who made money even while she spent five months in a federal prison for insider stock trading.
Peter Newcomb, senior editor of Forbes says, "While in prison she saw her net worth almost triple, so she went into prison worth about $350 million, she emerged a billionaire, that's quite an interesting story."
At the top of the Forbes list for the 11th straight year: Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He's worth more than $46 billion and gives much of his money away to charity. Coming in second, American investor Warren Buffett. Third on the list is Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, shown last year at the wedding in France of his daughter.
It was also a very good year for Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Ikea, the Swedish discount furniture chain. Bargain shopping put the chairman of Wal-Mart, S. Robson Walton, among the top ten billionaires. Four other Waltons were right behind him. The five Walton family members are worth more than $90 billion.
There were more than 100 new billionaires on the Forbes list this year. The total net worth of their holdings: a stunning $2.2 trillion. It was a good year to be in Internet technology, if your names are Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the two young founders of Google.
While Martha Stewart made a profit from her cell, another wealthy inmate was one of this year's biggest losers. Russia's embattled head of Yukos Oil, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, went to jail on charges of fraud and forgery and saw his fortune plunge.
Mr. Khodorkovsky can't be blamed if he's caught quoting the late Russian born-American singer Sophie Tucker: "I've been rich and I've been poor," she said, "and believe me, rich is better."