Isn't it ironic? No, it's not.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The word "ironic" gets tossed about quite a bit.

Just ask Alanis Morissette. Her hit single "Ironic," referencing many things that are not actually ironic, helped sell more than 30 million copies of her American debut "Jagged Little Pill" album -- still the record for female artists -- and undoubtedly making her a millionaire.

But this column isn't about millionaires.

It's about billionaires -- all 1,210 of them.

That's 99 more than last year and 75 more than the previous record, set in 2008. Sandwiched by the years "abundant" in billionaires, was 2009, with just 793.

Forbes released its 2011 list of billionaires Wednesday, the same day Yahoo! News posted a story titled "Jobs returning -- but good ones not so much."

Considering the definition of irony is "incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the expected result," maybe it's not ironic that the rich are getting richer while many of the poor are either staying poor or getting poorer.

The rich are holding up their side of the cliche.

Carlos Slim Helú, of Mexico, added $20.5 billion to his already top-rated stack for a total of $74 billion in net worth, while Bill Gates and Warren Buffett added a mere $3 billion for respective totals of $56 billion and $50 billion.

Of American billionaires, three-fourths gained the majority of their wealth from publicly-traded companies. This makes sense considering the Dow Jones Industrial Average sat at 12,268.19 on Feb. 14 -- the numbers used to calculate the net worths -- and was still in the same ballpark at 12,213.09 when the market closed Wednesday.

But only about one-third (413) of the people on the list are from the U.S., and only 10 of them are new, including six who made their money from Facebook. A decade ago, U.S. citizens made up a half of the list.

The BRIC -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- account for 301 of the list's entries and 108 of the new names.

Lump all of the world's billionaires together and you get a record $4.5 trillion in combined wealth, more than the gross domestic product of Germany.

That sounds like a big number, right?

Take that figure times three and you still aren't close to the U.S. national debt of more than $14.2 trillion or the nation's total personal debt of nearly $16.2 trillion.


Considering the effects of the Great Recession and the costs associated with U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, debt is expected.

Regardless, that number is still mind-blowing.

The question is no longer, "How did we get here?" but "How are we getting out of here?"

Is a national sales tax around 30 percent the answer?

That seems like it would have more millionaires and billionaires sitting on their money rather than investing it and creating jobs for everyone else.

What about changes to social security?

If they don't happen, members of Generation Y and beyond likely will not ever see money they pay into the system.

Why not rely on exports to growing countries like China and India?

According to Jason Henderson with the Omaha branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, China is trying to slow their growth.

Considering economists don't have all the answers, journalists definitely do not.

But, what if everyone made a concerted effort to live within their means? Considering the personal debt per citizen is nearly $52,000, that is clearly not happening.

Debt has become the norm.

That's not ironic.

It's just the sad truth.