A Bumper Crop of Billionaires

In many ways, the world has got used to having less. We're burning up oil, cutting down forests, and enjoying fewer hours of free time in the hustle of everyday life. But there's one thing the world is getting more of these days: Billionaires.

Forbes Magazine harvested its 20th annual crop of the 10-digit super rich in this month's edition and found that 2007 produced a bumper yield of billionaires.

There are 946 people from 53 countries that were worth at least a thousand million of dollars as of February 9, 2006. That's the date that the Forbes editors picked to take the "snapshot" of wealth, freezing stock values and computing the list.

Since then, the world's markets have been roiled by big sell-offs, likely bumping some people from the billionaires club (one member's fortune dropped by 30 percent) but leaving most unscathed.

Forbes Top 20

When it comes to wealth, the top of the Forbes list is, well, about as astounding as it comes. According to the magazine's editors, the top 20 fortunes when combined would top the half trillion dollar mark.

That's an average net worth of about $27 billion for all its members. One in five of this elite group is American, with the rest of the members coming from all over the world.

The average age is 64, and only one woman -- Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the L'Oréal beauty fortune -- counts herself a member.

Oh, and all but one saw their net worth increase last year. Poor Paul Allen took a hit after the Forbes editors recalculated his wealth.

1. Bill Gates (51, American, $56 billion) -- The megarich Microsoft founder has topped the Forbes list for 13 years.

2. Warren Buffett (76, American, $52 billion) -- This Oracle of Omaha saw his fortune increase by $10 billion in the past year.

3. Carlos Slim Helú (67, Mexican, $49 billion) -- Helú owns a big chunk of the telecom market in Mexico and saw his fortune grow by $19 billion last year. That's the biggest one-year gain in 10 years.

4. Ingvar Kamprad (80, Swedish, $33 billion) -- This Swede has cashed in on the global craze over inexpensive, durable furniture. He founded Ikea and now ranks among the richest.

5. Lakshmi Mittal (56, Indian, $32 billion) -- In the past year Mittal was able to add Accelor to his steel empire in a massive merger.

6. Sheldon Adelson (73, American, $26.5 billion) -- Adelson made his bet on the Sands of Las Vegas, making a fortune with his American and Macao casinos.

7. Bernard Arnault (58, French, $26 billion) -- This French billionaire knows how to live well. He made his fortune peddling the trappings of wealth (champagne, cognac and high fashion) to the world via his LVMH and Christian Dior brands.

8. Amancio Ortega (71, Spanish, $24 billion) -- Ortega wears his wealth well as owner of the global retail chain Zara. His business turns high fashion into affordable prêt a porter in just weeks.

9. Li Ka-shing (78, Hong Konger, $23 billion) -- Known as the "Superman" of Hong Kong, Ka-shing started out as a laborer and sales person. Today his corporate holdings range from shipping to retail, real estate to the Internet.

10. David Thomson (49, Canadian, $22 billion) -- This Canadian inherited his media fortune in 2006 when his father, Kenneth, died.

11. Lawrence Ellison (62, American, $21.5 billion) -- No matter how you figure it, Ellison is the king of the modern-day database. His money comes from software-superco Oracle.

12. Liliane Bettencourt (84, French, $20.7 billion) -- As the only woman in the Top 20, Bettencourt looks fabulous. Her L'Oréal money comes from the worldwide obsession with looking good.

13. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud (50, Saudi, $20.3 billion) -- The Saudi prince has seen his fortune expand in the past year, thanks to big stake in U.S. companies News Corp and Citi.

14. Mukesh Ambani (49, Indian, $20.1 billion) -- Ambani is profiting from the growing global need for petrochemicals. His Reliance Industries is India's largest private sector company. His brother Anil is No. 18 on the list.

15. Karl Albrecht (87, German, $20 billion ) -- This German co-owns the discount retailer Aldi with brother Theo (No. 20).

16. Roman Abramovich (40, Russian, $18.7 billion) -- The youngest person in the Forbes Top 20, Abramovich started his fortune when the former USSR opened up and he founded an oil trading firm.

17. Stefan Persson (59, Swedish, $18.4 billion) -- Persson has cashed in on the global obsession with low-price, high-fashion clothing from retail chain H&M, which he co-founded.

18. Anil Ambani (47, Indian, $18.2 billion) -- Focusing his fortune in finance, energy and telecom, this Ambani brother is building his wealth as India's economy grows.

19. Paul Allen (54, American, $18 billion) -- Allen co-founded Microsoft with the world's richest man. Today his ventures are diverse with diverse investments in professional sports, cable systems, private space flight and more.

20. Theo Albrecht (84, German, $17.5 billion) -- If you're a fan of Trader Joe's Two-buck Chuck wines, then you've probably contributed to this fortune. Theo owns the popular Trader Joe's chain and holds a big stake in discounter Aldi.

If you dream of one day joining the ranks of the Forbes list, you might just be able to do it. More than half of the people on the vaunted roster of the world's richest people are self-made, starting out with nothing and making their way into the history books.