Too Much  [Printer-friendly version]
September 25, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The 400 exceedingly wealthy individuals on
the annual Forbes list now hold, as a group, nearly as much wealth as
the poorer half of America's households. This has real consequences
for public health.]

The only official arm of the United States government that
systematically tracks the wealth of America's wealthy, the Federal
Reserve, does not -- for privacy reasons -- count the wealth of
America's very wealthiest. Thank goodness we have Forbes.

Every year, ever since 1982, this business magazine has assembled a
research team that dives deep into the nation's business records to
count the dollars of both exhibitionists eager to flaunt their wealth
and the shy anxious to hide it.

The resulting annual list of America's richest 400 may not be
absolutely accurate. But few people on the Forbes list, or left off
it, ever end up complaining. In a world of imperfect information, the
annual Forbes 400 numbers give us a reasonably accurate -- and
intensely sobering -- look at our grotesquely unequal nation.

How grotesquely unequal?

Back in 1982, the year Forbes started publishing an annual list of
America's 400 richest, the magazine could find only 13 billionaires in
the entire United States. The nation's entire billionaire population
could stand, quite comfortably, in a living room.

Not anymore. The just-released Forbes 400 list for 2006 includes,
for the first time ever, only billionaires.

Together, these 400 billionaires own $1.25 trillion in total
net worth.

Let's put this total in a more comprehensible context. In 2004, the
most current year with stats available, the 56 million American
families who make up the poorer half of America's wealth distribution
had a total combined net worth of just $1.29 trillion.

In other words, our nation's richest 400 households own just about as
much of our nation's treasure as our poorest 56 million.

That treasure appears to be concentrating at economic warp speed. In
1982, a deep-pocket in the United States needed a mere $90 million to
enter the lofty ranks of the Forbes 400. In 2004, the price of
admission stood at $750 million. On last year's Forbes list, the cut-
off jumped to $900 million. This year's entry fee: a straight $1

Let's put that number in context, too. An average American could win,
three times over, the biggest lottery jackpot ever -- the $315 million
payout recorded in California last November -- and still need over $50
million more to knock on the Forbes 400 door.

This year's fastest-growing Forbes 400 fortune belongs, somewhat
fittingly, to Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, the
global gambling industry giant. Worth $20.5 billion, this casino
magnate holds the nation's third-largest fortune. Adelson's fortune,
over the past two years, has grown at the rate of nearly $1 million an