If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard the name, Mansa Musa. Who’s this guy, and why did I never learn about him in history class? Mansa Musa has a net worth that places him as one of the richest men ever!
He puts Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates to shame; the only other competitors are Genghis Khan and King Solomon.
Who’s Mansa Musa?
Mansa Musa is also known as Musa I of Mali, and his name literally translates to “King of Kings”. Certainly a noble title for one of the richest, and most powerful, men in history.
Musa ruled over vast regions of Western Africa and is credited with the resurrection of the “Great Mosque” in Timbuktu. He is remembered for conquering Africa and the Middle East and spreading Islam.
King Mansa was a devoted Muslim, and his infamous pilgrimage to Mecca made him well known (and feared) across northern Africa and the Middle East.
Musa was a religious imperialist, and he would spend a lot of time fostering the growth of the Islam religion within his empire.
In 1324, Mansa Musa, during his seventeenth year under power, undertook his historic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This is a tradition (Hajj Pilgrimage) and requirement for all Muslim followers.
CNN notes, “Performing Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Islam requires every Muslim who is physically and financially able to make the journey to the holy city of Mecca at least once in his or her life.
Hajj occurs two months and 10 days after Ramadan ends, during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah. The height of Hajj commemorates Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son on Divine orders.”
Throughout his long journey from Mali to Mecca, Mansa Musa prominently displayed his wealth and witnesses were in utter disbelief. We know this from legends, journals, and scribes’ accounts.
Encyclopaedia Brittanica describes the following journey.
“Mansa Musa’s caravan consisted of 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves, who dressed in Persian silk. Musa rode on a horseback with 500 slaves carrying gold adorned staff directly preceding him.
He also took along with him 80 camels, which carried 300 pound of gold each. Musa spent lavishly during his journey, distributing gold to people and exchanging it for souvenirs in the cities he crossed on his way to Mecca.
When historian, Chihab al-Umari, visited Cairo twelve years later, the citizens were still singing Musa’s praise.”
Mansa Musa is well-known for his keen affection for the durable, sparkly metal (gold). In fact, almost all of Mansa Musa’s net worth was tied to gold, land, and other hard commodities.
To be fair, he did reign during the 14th century, so stocks, bonds, and private equity were merely a glimmer in his descendant’s eyes. So much for diversification!
Historians estimate that Musa carried anywhere between 50,000-75,000 tons of gold with him during his pilgrimage to Mecca. Can you even imagine?
Gold was (and still is) a symbol of wealth, power, and prestige. His clothes were covered in silk and golden trimming, letting everyone know who they were gazing upon.
So, how did I learn about Mansa Musa? It’s actually quite unexpected; it came from a mentoring session between P Diddy and Ray Dalio.
P Diddy (birth name Sean Combs) and Ray Dalio were invited to a “Forbes Top 100 Business Minds” event, and their last names placed them next to one another.
They mingled, became friendly, and have maintained a relationship ever since. During the course of their mentoring session, P Diddy noted that he wants to be remembered and loved like Mansa for charitable giving.
Dalio (like me) had absolutely no idea who Diddy was talking about. Mansa who? Naturally of course, I had to “Google” the name.
Turns out, during his pilgrimage to Mecca, Mansa Musa gave his entire net worth of gold to the poor and widows. Musa’s gift was the top philanthropic event in human history, and even led to short-term disaster!
The econ profession is constantly changing its definitions, but look at any dictionary before 1985 for the following inflation definition.
“A sharp increase in the amount of money in circulation”. That definition stood for hundreds of years, but now the dictionary says inflation is simply “rising prices”.
I have a cynical view why the definition was altered, but I digress.
Nevertheless, “to inflate” means “to expand”. Prices don’t expand; prices only go up or down. The only thing that can expand is the supply of money.
Prices are the intersection between available goods and services for purchase and the money in circulation. For example, if you have $2 and 2 apples, each apple is $1. Overly simplified but easy to digest.
Well, the sudden and dramatic increase in gold from Musa’s philanthropic donation constituted an increase in the supply of money.
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It ultimately resulted in the prices of goods and services in Africa and Mecca skyrocketing. This is a classic example of inflation. The goods and services for purchase were fixed, while the money supply jolted.
The economies of the regions that Musa visited were relatively industrious, with a reasonably stable economy. The gold hoarded by Musa was not being spent, so the velocity of money and prices were low.
This is the same reason why printing money doesn’t increase prices if everyone buried the newly created money in their backyard. Prices only rise when the “new money” is spent into circulation.
Thanks to Mansa Musa’s gold net worth donation, in a short period of time, large amounts of gold were put directly in consumer’s hands. This led to an all-out bidding war for valuable commodities.
It’s a powerful reminder of the unintended consequences of seemingly well-intended ideas. The current gold lost its existing purchasing power and plunged households (that received no gold) into further poverty.
Gold is not immune to inflation. If an asteroid hit the earth tomorrow and quadrupled the supply of gold, the value of existing gold would fall. Supply and demand my friends.
Nevertheless, Mansa Musa is the most generous philanthropist in history, and this is why P Diddy wants to replicate his actions.
Richest Man Ever?
So, was Mansa Musa really the richest man ever? His estimated net worth (in current fair market value) is between $200-400 billion.
This is comprised of his gold holdings, land, and ownership of Mali. Who else could even be in this conversation?
- Genghis Khan
- King Solomon
- John D. Rockefeller
- Jeff Bezos
MSN noted (Genghis Khan) “The fearsome Mongol leader conquered a mind-blowing 12 million square miles of land between 1206 and his death in 1227, more than anyone else in history.”
The fair market value of Khan’s net worth surpassed $10+ Trillion!
Standard of Living
So what if Mansa Musa had a net worth of $400 billion? His wealth was tied to gold and land, but what could it buy?
There was no air conditioning, internet, smart phones, or cards. I bet summers in Africa and the Middle East were not all sunshine and rainbows (I can’t even imagine an Iowa summer without air conditioning)!
In fact, some of the poorest Americans possess a standard of living higher than Mansa Musa. Roughly 80% of US citizens have a smart phone.
The BLS hedonic adjustments help normalize the disparity in wealth and price levels across time.
“The hedonic quality adjustment method removes any price differential attributed to a change in quality by adding or subtracting the estimated value of that change from the price of the old item.
Hedonic quality adjustments for rent and owners equivalent rent are used primarily to adjust for the age of a rental unit, and for utility adjustments.”
For example, assume the cost of a television goes up 20%, but the quality increases 30%. How would you account for this difference? The BLS (overly simplified) would say the cost fell 10%.
It’s safe to assume Musa’s net worth would require a lot of hedonic adjustments to normalize his wealth to today.
Mansa Musa Net Worth
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard the name, Mansa Musa. Who’s this guy, and why did I never learn about him in history class?
Mansa Musa has a net worth that places him as one of the richest men ever, potentially as high as $400 billion.
He puts Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates to shame; the only other competitors are Genghis Khan and King Solomon. However, his wealth provided a subpar standard of living in today’s terms.
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