It will hardly come as a surprise that the rich got richer in 2013. Didn’t happen to you, did it? The combined wealth of the world’s billionaires hit an all-time high of 5.4 trillion, up from 4.6 trillion in 2012.
The Forbes list of billionaires is brimming over with oligarchs, monopolists, thugs, miscreants, and hustlers. Not to mention right-wingers, narcissists, and parasitic predators. The only thing missing is the king of Mexian drug lords, Joaquin“El Chapo” Guzman, whose assets were evidently too hard to calculate this year.
Putting together a list of the worst individuals in this group is a daunting task: How to choose, for example, between telecom monopolists? The richest person in the world, Mexican mogul Carlos Slim Helu, is certainly no friend of humanity, but Silvio Berlusconi, with his special brand of Technicolor depravity, managed to edge him out. There are hundreds of garden-variety jerks to choose from, along with several dozen egregious SOBs like GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons who deserve dishonorable mention. And there should be a whole separate list of Russian oligarchs. Alas, one runs out of space and time.
While not comprehensive, here, in no particular order, are some of the biggest creeps on the 2013 roster.
1. The Koch brothers: Charles Koch ($34 bn), David Koch ($34 bn), William Koch ($4 bn)
Where to begin? David and Charles, the brothers still with Koch industries, are among the world’s biggest polluters, for starters. Bill Koch, who split off from the family company, is a world-class weirdo who devotes himself to things like building a faux Western town solely for his amusement and buying a $2 million photo of Billy the Kid. Though not as active in bankrolling GOP pols as his brothers, Bill was a big supporter of fellow 1 percent jerk Mitt Romney and has found time to fight against America’s first offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. As for David and Charles, they have won a permanent spot in the Public Menace Hall of Fame, kicking their fellow human beings in the face with everything from funding climate change denial to strangling democracy. They have striven mightily to reshape America into a Tea Party nightmare, and have plenty of money to continue their mission.
2. Rupert Murdoch ($11.2 bn)
Murdoch, the Australian media tycoon, has dedicated himself to coarsening the public sphere through the misinformation, intolerance, and contempt of ordinary people promoted through his News Corp. Politicians woo him for his cash and the vast influence of his newspapers, magazines and TV networks, creating a foul nexus of influence that is corrosive to democracy. Be it union busting, race-baiting, or monopolistic business practices, Murdoch has been there, done that. Lately, he has found himself embroiled in a hacking scandal in which employees of his newspapers were caught doing just about anything, including bribing police and hacking into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, to get a story. Murdoch recently tweeted what he considered a joke about an obese woman who fell through a New York sidewalk, asking if she got fat from food stamps and welfare.
3. Gina Rinehart ($17 bn)
If there is a hell for those who hate working people, Australian mining mogul Gina Rinehart occupies the innermost circle, right there in Satan’s maw. The richest woman in the Asia/Pacific region likes to share her obscene philosophy of wealth, and recently made a case for $2 dollar-a-day pay. She also instructed poor people to stop being jealous of the rich and to focus on working harder, and drinking and smoking less. She has blamed Australia’s economic problems on a socialist anti-business agenda, but of course Rinehart, who inherited a $30 billion fortune, has never had a real job. She does have her own Facebook fanpage, “F*ck Gina Rinehart,” which boasts nearly 38,000 likes.
4. The Walton family: Christy Walton and family ($28.2 bn), Jim Walton ($26.7 bn), Alice Walton ($26.3 bn), S. Robson (Rob) Walton ($26.1 bn), Anne Walton Kroenke, ($4.5 bn), Nancy Walton Laurie ($3.9 bn)
The Walton family is the richest in the U.S. and heirs to the retail juggernaut Walmart. They collectively claim 0.14 percent of the country’s entire wealth, or to put it another way, they are worth as much as the bottom 41 percent of all Americans combined. Their legacy is a grotesque business model that depends on pushing down wages and sinking living standards for millions of Americans. Rob is chairman of the board of directors of a company that pays its full-time hourly employees an average of $12.50 and has a policy of keeping them part-time so they don’t even earn that. The Waltons are big-time funders of conservative causes, with special emphasis on undermining public education. Jim Walton, who serves as the chairman for the Walton-owned Arvest bank, is particularly active in injecting his family’s ill-gotten gains into politics.
5. Sheldon Adelson ($36.5 bn)
The casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is known as a backer of hawkish pro-Israel groups and a supporter of right-wingers both in America and Israel. In 2012, he spent more than any American in history funneling money –at least $100 million– mostly to various conservative candidates. Next to the Koch brothers, he’s been just about the biggest bankroller of the right. He’s also a poster child for corruption. Recently, Adelson admitted that his Las Vegas Sands Corporation likely broke the law by bribing Chinese officials in order to expand business opportunities and to raise money for his various projects.
6. Silvio Berlusconi ($6.2 bn)
Berlusconi, one of Italy’s longest serving post-war prime ministers, is a telecom monopolist whose nauseating personality and image have dominated the country and brought corruption and sex scandals to new heights. With his notorious “bunga-bunga” parties, he has normalized a special brand of cheesy misogyny and crepuscular excess that has made him the model for goatish gazillionaires across the world. When confronted with accusations that he’d paid for sex with an underage Moroccan prostitute, he replied, “At least I’m not gay.” Belusconi’s criminal record is long and impressive, including tax fraud, bribery and the illegal financing of political parties. But he has deployed a creative means of avoiding being locked up: make up new laws. Last week, he was convicted of wiretapping in a bank deal and sentenced to a year in jail. But this will not prevent him from participating in the next government and evidently has not changed public opinion in Italy. Why should it? He’s been committing crimes and getting away with it for decades.
7. Carl Icahn ($20 bn)
Icahn’s face should be placed beside the term “corporate raider” in any dictionary of financial chicanery. C.E. Meyer, the chairman of Trans World Airlines, which was taken over by Icahn, famously called him “one of the greediest men on earth.” Also referred to as “Icahn the Barbarian,” his specialty has been taking over a company, selling its assets to pay the debt used for the purchase, and sending jobs down the toilet while enriching himself. The elderly vulture capitalist has lately been thinking about his legacy and is attempting to rebrand himself as a “shareholder activist.” That’s rather a tall order for the man who, along with Ivan Boesky, served as the inspiration for Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street.
8. Donald Trump ($3.2 bn)
Famed for the assholic mantra “You’re fired!” from his reality show venture, Trump is as shallow and thuggish a 1 percenter as you’re likely to find anywhere. He is a congenital liar, having delivered whoppers on his net worth, his business deals, and, well, just about anything else he talks about for more than five minutes. He used the 2012 election cycle as a forum for personal ego boosting and the spreading of lies, including the idiotic notion that Obama is not a natural-born citizen. Fun fact: Trump used deferrments to avoid service in the Vietnam War, but lied and said it was because he had a high draft number.
9. Peter Peterson ($1.3 bn)
Private equity mogul Pete Peterson, who founded the Blackstone Group with Stephen Schwarzman (also on our list) has a very straightforward agenda. He wants to kill Social Security and Medicare, the programs that keep millions of American out of poverty. His strategy is to channel gargantuan amounts of money into stoking nonsensical deficit hysteria. His focus on austerity policies, which have proved disastrous around the world, particularly in places like the U.K., makes him an economic quack, but one who has found willing ears among fools and knaves. Peterson has pushed his messaging into popular culture, he has held high-profile summits, and he has enlisted hordes of wealthy politicians, like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, to carry his water in Washington. He is a driving force behind the “Fix the Debt” campaign, a consortium of corporate honchos and rich individuals who have attempted to bring deficit scare-mongering to D.C. in order to achieve cuts to vital programs and further strip hardworking Americans of their dignity.
10. Stephen Schwarzman ($6.5 bn)
The Blackstone Group’s co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, described as “private equity’s designated villain” in the New Yorker, is fond of throwing lavish parties for himself, including an infamous $3 millon birthday fete in June 2007 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory. The party, which went down in history as a show-stopping hymn to bad taste, featured a marching band and a 50-foot silkscreen recreation of Schwarzman’s own $40 million apartment. Revellers included Bill Clinton and Cardinal Edward Egan, now considered a dark horse for pope. A couple of months later, the economy tanked, thanks in part to the mismanagement and excess debt of the unregulated private equity firms that have served to weaken the real economy. Most recently, Schwarzman captured headlines by comparing raising taxes on private equity fatcats like himself to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Seriously! He is reportedly outraged that persons like himself have been the subject of contempt since the financial crisis. The heart bleeds.