May 22, 2006
It’s always extremely difficult to work out quite how rich people were in earlier times. Which inflation rate do we use?
A secret rich list of Britain's wealthiest private citizens, produced months before the Wall Street Crash, shows the extraordinary affluence of the richest businessman ever to live in this country.
Sir John Ellerman, a reclusive figure, was, according to a 1929 list of millionaires drawn up by the Inland Revenue, so well-off that the next tycoon earned less than half as much as he did.
At today's prices, Ellerman, an accountant who built a conglomerate of businesses and shareholdings from almost nothing, earned £389 million in that year and had liquid assets of about £9 billion.
Ellerman was obviously stinking rich but should we simply use the inflation rate since 1929 to give current figures? Or the rise in real wages? (Which will be larger.) One of the others on the list rather showed the canniness needed to make such a fortune:
Next comes, probably, James Buchanan, Lord Woolavington, founder and head of James Buchanan, the whisky distillers, with £485,000 (£121 million). Prof Rubinstein said: "He was said to have paid £50,000 for his peerage, but dated the cheque with which he paid for it Jan 2, 1922, the day after it was to be gazetted, and signed it "Woolavington," not Buchanan, so that if he didn't get the peerage, the cheque would bounce."
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How Rich?:
I did some work on this for a book about a prominent early 20th century figure (it's not released yet).
I concluded rather obviously that it depends what you want to know - their purchasing power (when you should use inflation, but obvoiusly note problems in comparing prices over 20 years let alone 100) or their position in society, for want of a better word, when you should use wages or a GDP measure. There's of course that handy website which does them all.
I think though the Telegraph has made a mistake. It looks like their scaling factor is 250 times, which is using GDP (the highest measure), not prices (which would be about 1/6th the amount) as they said.
Posted by: Matthew | May 22, 2006 8:57:51 AM
To make it more complicated you could make it a percentage of GNP & then find Romans rich enough to pay the Empire's budget for a year. Populations were smaller then & central government budgets took up less of the economy.
Posted by: Neil Craig | May 22, 2006 12:35:37 PM
Somehow I doubt any of Tony's cronies were as canny as Jimmie. Anyone care to challenge that belief?
Posted by: The Remittance Man | May 22, 2006 7:24:39 PM