HIGHTOWER: How the Wealthiest 400 Americans Acquired Their Riches

Asked what his formula was for financial success, billionaire J. Paul Getty responded: "Rise early, work late, strike oil."These days, ThePowersThatBe insist that anyone in America can become superrich if they're just smart enough and work hard enough. They point to bootstrappers like Ross Perot, who started out as son of a Texas horsetrader, or to Bill Gates, who used his computer savvy to become a billionaire before he was 30.Each year, Forbes magazine celebrates the 400 richest Americans, always gushing over the newcomers to the list and claiming that the additions prove there is no class structure in our country.Well, ours truly is a great country, with more economic mobility than in most, but before you salute the "classless claim" of those who happen to be in the wealthiest class, you might thumb through back issues of Forbes and notice that most of the 400 are repeat winners, appearing year after year -- names like Mellon, Rockefeller, Duke, duPont and Getty!An enterprising group called United for a Fair Economy delved into the sources of wealth for Forbes' Fortunate 400. Far from the Horatio Alger hype, all but a third of them started life with a head start, not getting on this celebrated list because they are brilliant business types, but because they inherited the money. Indeed, six percent of them inherited wealth or assets worth more than a million bucks; seven percent more started life with more than $50 million in wealth; and a whopping 43 percent of them inherited such fabulous wealth that they started out members of the Forbes 400!The study concluded that the real formula for gaining great wealth is to choose wealthy parents.To get a copy of this revealing study, contact United for a Fair Economy: 617-423-2148.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.