Hello out there in La La Land, old Buster is back, just a day late and a dollar short. Old pappy and I got to thinking that our messages concerning the current politically and culturally divisive state of our good old U.S.of A. might be getting just a tad depressing for y’all. So, we decided to check into the cheerfully celebratory 2014 Special Edition of Forbes Magazine – the issue regaling the Forbes “400 Richest People in America.” Overall, these fortunate few are about one thousand times as wealthy as were they and their peers back in 1982 when Steve’s pappy, Malcolm Forbes, began publishing the 400 list. Back then, they were mostly just multi-millionaires with billionaires numbering a measly 13 persons.
The 2014 class consists of all billionaires and excludes 113 of their number too poor to make the cut. Of this illustrious and modest group, Forbes apparently asked 50 members to what they most attributed their success. Unabashedly, a whopping majority named a combination of discipline and hard work, willingness to take risks, and native intelligence as their secrets to success. Fourteen of the group allowed as how luck may have had some influence and another ten admitted that their education helped. One uncommonly honest lad, #261 – H. Wayne Hughes, a sharecropper’s son who founded Public Storage, the huge self-storage company, commented, “I would rather have good luck than good judgement.”
An article titled “Self-made or Silver Spoon” then arranged the past and present 400’s in categories ranging from “silver stockings” to “bootstrappers,” noting that a smaller percentage now relied mostly or totally on inherited wealth, and a growing proportion are earning their own fortunes. It continues, “For all the carping about economic unfairness, this country’s financial elite are increasingly drawn from the entrepreneurial class. The American Dream, it seems, is alive and well.”
This old hound dog wonders how many 99-percenters would agree whole-heartedly with that last sentiment?
Just for fun, old pap and I toted up from which sources these industrious lads and lasses had derived their fortunes. It appears that back in 1982 when the list was begun, most millionaires (besides inheritors) were either in the energy or manufacturing sectors with about 9% coming from finance activities and a mere 3% from technology. Today however, the largest single category is the Finance and Investment group (30%), followed by Retailing (20%). Media (including Social Media) and Entertainment activities add another 13%, and Technology (somewhat surprisingly) only accounts for 7.5%. Manufacturing and Energy together represent only 14% now, with Healthcare, including Drugs, totaling 10%. Included in the remaining “other” category are seven big casino operators (you know, the old “one arm” – now “armless” bandits).
An interesting sidelight: Ernest Gallo, one of the brothers who taught Americans to fly (most people think that was the Wright brothers), was included in the 1982 list, but has since gone on to claim his well-deserved reward.
With the decline of manufacturing here at home, one wonders what these new-age very wealthy folk are contributing to the general welfare of the population. Since the Finance sector has turned the stock markets into exciting gaming venues and big box Retailers have convinced us all that we need to consume more and more all the time, it would seem that a bunch of money is being accumulated with little return to society at large.
Good old Steve, howsomever, points out for us the wonderful magnitude of philanthropic giving that many of our wealthy wonders are doing. The numbers are indeed impressive, though a fair portion of this activity sort of leans toward self-grandiosity. Also, the tax deductions accruing to the charitable givers cause the rest of us taxpayers to become partners in their benevolence, further increasing the debt-burden being passed on to future generations.
A last note: When looking at world-wide billionaires, we noted there are currently 152 in China and 111 in Russia. It would seem that while free enterprise probably is, as oft-touted by “conservative” media, a strong promoter of wealth, the distribution thereof may have more to do with political connection than with pure economic system.
Now, is all this good news making you feel a bit less stressed?
PS: Another of the class of 2014, Leslie (Les) Wexner, the chief of Victoria’s Secret, somehow discovered that about 80% of women are wearing the wrong size bra, and is apparently doing what he can to correct this unhealthy situation! Even noting that sex sells, this one’s a conundrum!!