Forbes publishes their Richest Folks lists a couple of times a year: once for the planet and once for the U. S. of America. For the record, I'm not against being fabulously wealthy and, in fact, I'd love to make Forbes' list some day. While it does make me righteously angry that we tolerate an economic system that both allows the super-mega wealthy to become more ultra-super-mega wealthy and - at the same time - allows unemployment to climb and let poverty reach record levels in this land (which is, apparently, your land, and my land, but mostly their land), that's not what pisses me off about the mendacious a-holes over at Forbes. Injustice does make me cranky, but it seems to be an inherent part of the human condition and, frankly, I don't have a solution. Calling out disingenuous liars - now there's something I can do that's satisfying.
Forbes lies a couple of times a year when they list the billionaires, some of whom have inherited their wealth and some of whom are (apparently) "self-made." And there's the lie: Forbes claims that most of the billionaires on their list are "self-made." Now, again, I don't have a problem with inherited wealth. It's only right and fair that the children of the wealthy are allowed to benefit from their parents (and grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents) good fortune, ingenuity and hard work. It only becomes a problem if there's not enough to go around and a bunch of freeloaders are, well, freeloading. Oh, and if a kingly Aristocracy ruled the land, but that would never happen in America, which threw off that barbaric tradition long ago.
And so, in America, the 2010 Forbes 400 list identifies the 400 mostly "self-made" American capitalist entrepreneurs who have embiggened themselves from rags to riches through the sweat of their brow and brilliance of their brains. According to Forbes, 68% of the wealthiest white men (they are mostly men and almost entirely white) are "self-made" John Waynes of business. When I looked more closely at their list, I found something different. In fact, I found exactly the opposite: 70% of the Americans on the Forbes 400 list were born wealthy and 42% were simply born with a billion.[2,3] Another 20% were born comfortably middle class. Only 10% were truly "self-made" billionaires.
Which is fine. I sincerely don't have a problem with this as long as it is acknowledged. But it's not. Again, Forbes claims that 68% of the folks on their list are "self-made," when, in fact, only 10% are. A good chunk of billionaires are the heirs of Sam Walton, Frank Mars and Fred Koch - again, which is fine. Why do I have to even justify this? Oh, yea, because I'll be accused of being a pinko commie traitor if I don't.
It's worth noting, at this point, that I define "Born with a Billion" as being people that simply inherited a billion dollars, like the Mars, Kochs and Waltons (Good night, Mary Ellen). And I define "Born Rich" as those that maybe didn't inherit a billion, but they did inherit daddy's company, like Jim Kennedy and Sam Newhouse did. And, once they took over the farm, they ran with it, to their credit, and made a billion. Bully for them!
Then there's the "Comfortable" category, which is surprisingly broad (20%). This would includ all those folks that had the opportunity to go to private preparatory schools and Harvard and what not: William Gates the Third, Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg and Mark Zuckerberg, for example. This is not to take anything away from any of these byallaccounts very acomplished individuals. I myself grew up "comfortable" with professional parents and a state college education (although I worked to pay my rent and expenses the whole time), but these people took the advantages I had and turned them into a few billion dollars.
Anyhow, surely there is a recipe for success that we can learn from the list, like "Buy pork bellies" or "Create an amazing tech startup." And, indeed there is:
The Number One way to make a billion dollars is... to be born with a billion dollars (41%). Going into technology is a distant second (26%), with raping the common man through obscure, barely legal financial instruments close behind. Ahem. Sorry. Banking and finance is third, with a 24% stake.
Why is any of this important, other than to let me write a long sour-grapes rant? Well, for one, the Republicans publicly claim (and the Democrats secretly hope) that it is important to leave the wealthy alone so they can create jobs for us, with the implication being that the rich are "self-made" hard-working entrepreneurs who have earned and deserve everything they've got and more. Frankly, the vast majority of wealthy people have inherited their wealth and are no smarter, harder working or better than you or me. And, clearly, they aren't creating jobs or lifting us out of poverty. It is simply and demonstrably not true that letting us fight over their table scraps is a good economic system. Secondly, if you dig a little deeper, it is clear that almost every billionaire (+90%) has benefited from a decent education and a chance, a shot, a roll of the dice at becoming unimaginably wealthy. That's not true for the poor and unemployed. If they are angry about this, I think they are justified.
Sorry for the long-winded, wildly unsubstantiated rant. Here are my sources, methodology (for what it is) and notes.
 Source: Forbes - I just went through their list(s) and noted who they claimed were "self-made".
 Source: Da Internets - I looked up the bios of the people I could and made a judgement call on whether the person was really "self-made" or not. I'll leave it to you to assess the real value of myjudgement + wackipedia.
 Notes: Here's the spreadsheet I made for the first 50 on the list. I'm not citing this as evidence, but you can see some of my thinking.
 Biggest Lies: The following examples are what really set me off. These are a sample of the most egregious lies of "self-made" billionaires that are simply NOT "self-made" in any reasonable sense of the word.
* Ron Perelman - started with $800,000; married $100,000,000
* George Kaiser - inherited dad's oil company
* Edward Johnson - inherited dad's Fidelity Investments
* Philip Anschutz - granddad started Farmers State Bank, dad was land investor and oilman
* Rupert Murdoch - inherited newspaper magnate Sir Keith Murdoch's empire
And an extra bonus from the World's Billionaires List that REALLY got this whole rant started for me last year:
* Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud is a "self-made" billionaire, according to Forbes. Yes, a Saudi Prince is considered "self-made".
 There are many (most?) folks on the list that are still admirable even though they were born with a billion. All I'm saying is that we probably shouldn't worship them as being somehow better than me or you.
 There are many (most?) folks on the list that had huge head starts, but weren't born with a billion. Almost all of the people that made a billion in technology started with private prep schools, then went on to Harvard or Yale and then were entirely free to do what they did without having to work part-time at MacDonalds. Or full-time. Or work on anything other than their big dream. I think this is fantastic! And some of these people are freakin' workaholic geniuses, but describing them as "self-made" is a bit disingeuous.
 And, finally, a secret bonus footnote that ends on a positive note, YES, there are billionaires on the list that were formerly poor, penniless immigrants or All-American dirt farmers. Here's a sample:
* Lawrence Ellison
* George Soros
* Len Blavatnik
* Harold Hamm