NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How The Richest Americans Got There

December 5, 1997

The 1997 Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans has some lessons for advocates of class warfare. Namely, that hard work and talent -- not the luck of inheritance -- are the keys to financial well-being. Moreover, the ranks of the wealthiest are constantly changing. So getting on the list is no guarantee of staying there.

Here are some insights:

  • Those who inherited their wealth account for only 112 of the 400 names.
  • Forty-three of last year's 400 have dropped off the list.
  • Seventy-four percent of those on the first list in 1982 were absent from this year's list.
  • The first list had 13 billionaires, compared to 170 today.

Fifteen years ago, eight of the top 10 fortunes were based on oil. Today, five of the top six are based on computers and software.

On the list are 30 college dropouts, and many of the very rich started businesses with less than $10,000 in seed capital. Eight of the super rich have at one time experienced bankruptcy.

The oldest person on the list is 97 and the youngest is 25.

Source: Paul Craig Roberts, "Building Fortunes the American Way," Washington Times, December 5, 1997.


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