by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[T]he Forbes billionaires list contains some of the best evidence there is against the argument one hears from Senator Sanders et al. that the United States is an oligarchy characterized by hereditary privilege and corporate hoarding.
Two of the remarkable absences from the list: heirs and CEOs.
There are a few familiar surnames that crop up repeatedly on the list — Walton, Pritzker, Mars — but not very many. There are children of wealth at the top of the list, including Bill Gates, whose father was a successful attorney, and Charles and David Koch, whose father established a successful engineering business with an interest in a refinery and a cattle operation, which the brothers built into the modern business giant that is Koch Industries. (Disclosure: David Koch was on the board of a nonprofit where I once worked.) But there’s nobody in the top ten who simply inherited and husbanded a fortune, and very few elsewhere. (Three Waltons are Nos. 14, 15, and 16 on the list.) The wealthiest American on the list, Jeff Bezos, is the son of a teenaged mother who, after a short-lived marriage to Bezos’s father, married a Cuban immigrant and moved to Houston, one of the great cities for young people who aren’t rich but want to be. Bezos’s stepfather went to work for Exxon, and Bezos attended excellent public schools before enrolling at Princeton. He thought it might be a good idea to try to sell books online. It was.
Williamson also offers food for thought to those who believe the rich should “give back” to society.
And consider those Walmart heirs. Yes, the subsequent generations of Waltons have undertaken a great deal of philanthropy with their fortunes, much of it admirable, but none of that philanthropy has done as much good for ordinary people — and for poor people — as Walmart itself. Progressives hate Walmart for its Arkansas roots and déclassé clientele, but in its 50-odd years of leaning on consumer-product giants such as Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola to accept lower margins in exchange for access to its vast customer base, Walmart has done more to transfer wealth from the shareholder class to the poor than every tweedy Piketty-quoting intellectual in the Western world combined. By one estimate, Walmart alone knocked a full percentage point off the U.S. inflation rate, and its data-driven approach to business, combined with its 800-pound-gorilla position in the retail marketplace, has empowered it to force less forward-looking companies into adopting state-of-the-art inventory-management practices and logistics systems. In doing so, it has, penny by penny, shaved billions and billions of dollars off the grocery bills and other household expenditures of the people it serves. …