What Makes Someone a Bubble Baron?
The Bubble Barons investigation launched last week by AlterNet and LittleSis.org has gotten off to a fast start, with over 250 citizen journalists signed up to track down information on the 67 bubble barons we've identified. In less than a week, the research group has made over 500 edits to the LittleSis database, building out data on everything from the family ties of Dennis Washington to the investments and donations of Stephen Schwarzman. More than 30 analysts have participated in LittleSis.org research trainings.
You can follow the group's progress at the Bubble Baron research page, which shows recent edits to bubble barons' profiles, basic information and updates for the group, and notes from Bubble Baron analysts.
For those of you who haven't signed up, it's still not too late to get involved: click here to sign up for the Bubble Barons investigation.
What does it take for someone to be deemed a bubble baron? I used three main criteria when creating the list, drawing on Forbes' lists of the 400 wealthiest Americans:
- Billions (plural). The bubble barons are all worth $2 billion or more (they are multi-billionaires), according to Forbes' estimates. These estimates can't be counted on as 100% accurate, but they are the best source for US wealth rankings. It's pretty simple: like the robber barons before them, the bubble barons are wealthier than everyone else.
- Big bubble gains. The bubble barons all saw substantial increases in wealth from the height of the last bubble (the dot com bubble) in 2000 to 2009, according to Forbes data. If an individual made billions during the housing bubble and lost it all by the end, they didn't make the list. Similarly, tech billionaires whose gains were flat since the dot-com peak did not make the list.
- FIRE. The bubble barons are all active in the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industry - an approximation for the bundle of industries that benefited most from the Wall Street-fueled housing boom.
Some bubble barons don't fit these criteria perfectly. The MacMillan family, for instance, are more closely identified with the agricultural sector, but their business model boils down to financial engineering, so I decided to include them. The same goes for some of the energy traders on the list. The Ziff family made their fortune in publishing, but have since poured their billions into a hedge fund, Och-Ziff.
Meanwhile, obscenely wealth people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the Walton family didn't make the list because their wealth hasn't increased dramatically in the past ten years, according to Forbes estimates.
This isn't a list of rich people who created the housing bubble, or 25 people to blame for the financial crisis. That list would include corporate executives and managers (eg: Lloyd Blankfein) and policy elites (eg: Alan Greenspan) who essentially help the bubble barons aggregate wealth, doing their dirty work in the business and policy arenas. These individuals will hopefully be the targets of a future investigation, and our bubble baron research will also inevitably turn up information on them.
When it comes down it, there are more than 67 bubble barons, but we wanted to focus our efforts on a manageable, well-defined list to start. So if you think of anyone on the list that fits these criteria, but that we missed, please say so, but be prepared to adopt the bubble baron you nominate! You can either use the comments or get in touch on LittleSis.
Again, if you'd like to get involved, it's not too late to sign up for the investigation!