Some Thoughts on the Forbes 400

I didn’t make the Forbes list of the 400 Wealthiest people in America. Again.

If I live long enough, I could capture the record for most consecutive years of failing to land on the list, but that’s a long way off as well.

Don’t feel bad for me. If you must, have some sympathy for the 8 guys (most of the people on the list are men, still) who tied for 401st making them the “also ran” victims of this celebration of fiscal superlatives. It seems that even having a net worth of $1.5 billion is not good enough to get you into the top 400 category anymore. What a shame. Interestingly enough – to me anyway – is that I only recognized the name of one of the eight “just missed it” crew, Nicholas Pritzker of Hyatt Hotels fame. By contrast I knew three of the six names who just made the cut with $1.55 billion. Think of it, a mere 50 million separated the ins from the outs.

Now I have no political agenda, and this is not a call to action, but reading about this upper echelon of wealth did leave me with a few reflections to share. Take them for what they are worth.

The total net worth of the Fortune 400 is $2.3 trillion, translating into an average of $5.7 billion dollars each. The per capita net worth of everyone in the country is $260,000, meaning the top tier folks have about 22 thousand times as much money as the average person in the country. Estimates that about one family in three live one paycheck from bankruptcy might bring this all into sharper focus. All things considered, the top folks could give up less than 2% of their net worth and double the safety net for the 40 million families living on the edge. I’m not suggesting this. Although “a rising tide lifts all boats” (we think) just giving money away is not usually a good idea. Besides, CSC or Bechtel or another of the government’s Super Contractors would probably get involved in the project and after their fees were paid, who knows what would be left?

Besides, it’s not like the uber rich (can we still use uber like that?) are necessarily stingy with their money. Bill and Melinda Gates (Bill ranked #1 on the Fortune 400), Warren Buffet (#2), and Leonard Lauder (#52) each donated more than a billion dollars last year, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (#11) was not far behind at $990 million. The top 20 donors on the 400 list gave away $11.6 billion in 2014 (and we thank you!). The magazine from which this information is taken highlights a lot of others – many not on the top 400 list – who are incredibly generous with their fortunes.

Wondering where the rich and famous live? Wherever they want to! O.K. bad joke. As you might expect, for reasons including financial markets (New York has 65 of the Forbes 400), sun (California at 93 and Florida at 31) and oil (Texas – 39), some states have more billionaires than others. In most cases, make that waaaay more. 12 of the 50 United States have no F400 listers –zero, none, nada. Seven more have only 1 (Who is the most popular guy in Kentucky, eh?). The only states not already mentioned with double digit ultra-rich denizens are Washington and Illinois. Eight live abroad. Consider this if you are planning to move soon.

One other piece of the Forbes list that many will find interesting is the “Self-made Score” assigned to each listee. Using a proprietary metric, Forbes has ranked each person with a score from 1 (inherited wealth – doing nothing to grow it) to 10 (raised poor, endured great hardships, succeeded anyway). Although there is nothing pejorative attached to the numbers, it is not hard to see that the average reader might have a different feeling for Oprah Winfrey than for Sam Walton’s daughter! You can see the whole story about this ranking system on the Forbes website.

Reading some of the background stories of many of the people highlighted on the Forbe’s list is actually quite entertaining, and it’s always interesting to get a glimpse into how the other half (or more accurately, the other .000001%) live. I’ll leave you to get online or buy the magazine to find out more. Me? I’m off to talk to Larry Ellison (#3) about a loan.