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Is Buffett, Not Carlos Slim, the Richest Man?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --

The annual Forbes list of the world's richest people has showcased a growing billionaire set from outside the U.S., with emerging market leaders like Russia, Brazil and China encroaching on the U.S. billionaire "exceptionalism."

Indeed, much has been made of the fact that Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim edged out Microsoft's (MSFT) Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.B) Warren Buffett for the top spot among the world's richest.

The globalization of the billionaires is, of course, hardly a new trend -- more like a renewed trend in 2009, as the former commodities countries regained some billionaire steam after riding out the commodities doldrums of the prior few years. What's more, the number of U.S. capitalists on the annual billionaire list increased in 2009, too.

Still, one of the biggest points raised -- or, more to the point, not raised -- by the annual list is the extent to which charitable giving influences the flip-flopping at the top of the Forbes list of billionaires. We adjust for inflation, but when it comes to billionaires, Forbes doesn't adjust for charitable giving.

>>Stockpickr Portfolio: The Richest People in the World

At a time when the populist rage against the global wealth inequality runs high, it might be well worth Forbes' -- or someone's time -- to do an annual ranking of the world's billionaires, with figures adjusted for philanthropy.

In a sense, Forbes actually provided this service, just not in the actual annual billionaires list.

In a video with Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett posted on the Forbes Web site, the billionaire-monitoring magazine notes that Buffett's fortune would have been $55 billion if he had not given away $9 billion over the past five years to charity, and that difference would have earned him the top spot among the world's richest.

Mexico's Slim was worth $53.5 billion in 2009, but press reports have noted that he has only given away in the range of $65 million to charity.

Buffett ranked third in 2009 with a net worth of $47 billion, behind Slim and Gates.
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