Sign up for email alerts, from breaking news to weekly commentary:
How "special" are those on the Forbes list?
It's out! This year's list of American success stories has just been published, and, according to its compiler, it "instills confidence that the American dream is still very much alive."
Maybe you are one of these success stories. You might be a great public school teacher, for example, who motivated students to achieve new heights, or an inventor who came up with an energy-saving device and got it to market at a fair price, generating a profit for yourself, the environment, and society generally.
No, no, no. Not that kind of success. We're talking money the flow of mammon beyond regular people's wildest dreams. That's how Forbes magazine measures not only "success," but also a person's value: You are what's in your Swiss bank account. And, just to rank last on this year's "Forbes 400" listing of America's wealthiest people, you need more than a billion dollars in financial wealth.
The magazine gloated that these 400 swells jacked-up their cumulative haul last year by $200 billion over the previous year – an average of half-a-billion each! Now that's success, baby, especially when the typical American family's income dropped by four percent.
These ultra-wealthy, goes the Forbes narrative, are the "deserving rich," for they are our economy's makers and producers – as opposed to being takers and moochers, like those commoners who get Social Security, Medicare, and other government help.
Before swallowing that, however, note that roughly 40 percent of these "achievers" on the list "achieved" their wealth by being well-born – they inherited the money. And all of them have indeed been takers, not only enjoying government programs, but also subsidies and tax advantages available only to the rich.
The Forbes list really says you got special treatment – not that you are special.
"Romney And the Forbes 400," The New York Times, September 25, 2012.
"We Are the 96 Percent," The New York Times, September 25, 2012.