Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good News From the Forbes 400

In these populist times, the super-wealthy are hardly viewed positively. Many of them should not be. But the overall picture from this year's Forbes 400 (see contains a measure of good news, especially when one looks at the top of the top: the Top 20. The wealthiest person in America is Bill Gates, a software guy, at $54 billion. The next wealthiest is Warren Buffet, an investments guy in Nebraska who's worth $45 billion. Third is Larry Ellison, worth $27 billion from working in the high tech industry. The wealthiest family in America, the Waltons, together worth about $84 billion, hold four places in the Top 20, primarily from their holdings in Walmart, a fairly well-known retailing company. Several other high tech people show up in the Top 20: Larry Page and Sergey Brin (of Google), Michael Dell (PCs), Steve Ballmer (computer software), Paul Allen (computer software), and Jeff Bezos (Internet retailing). Other people in the Top 20 provide news and data (Michael Bloomberg, who also dabbles in politics, and Anne Cox Chambers), or hold manufacturing and energy interests (Charles and David Koch).

It's heartening to note that only two of the Top 20, George Soros and John Paulson, are from Wall Street, and they're not part of the financial world's in-crowd. These two hedge fund guys may have made more money selling short than other ways. Many view them as renegades or outliers. But to their credit, neither of them has gotten a government bailout. They made their money the hard way, by taking a full measure of market risk and coming out smelling like roses. Wall Street's mainstream bankers, who float by these days on government-subsidized bonuses, don't begin to hold a candle to Soros and Paulson.

The good news is that a lot of wealth is still created through productive activities. This is essential for America's future. Wall Street dominates the business news, but the really, really wealthy for the most part didn't get there through financial shuffling and shenanigans. They made or provided useful things that other people wanted and needed. That's good for America's future. It's where government policies and private enterprise should be focused.

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