Show me the Money
We have an odd fascination with the very wealthy. But who are they, and where do they live?
There are approximately 450 billionaires in the U.S. (according to Movoto), and while nearly half of them live in New York or California, there’s almost one in every state. According to Forbes and Celebrity Net Worth, these billionaires amassed their wealth in various ways, from entrepreneurs to heirs to widows. For instance, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune (Jim, Alice, and Christy Walton) each top their individual state’s list, with roughly over $35 billion each, thanks to their father, Sam Walton. Some of these billionaires are household names like Bill Gates ($80 billion, Washington) or Warren Buffett ($63.1 billion, Nebraska). While a college degree usually plays a part in their fortunes, Bill Gates actually was a college dropout.
This skew of income affects politics significantly. In the presidential campaign of 2012, 32 high net worth individuals contributed to their favored political parties and, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren (whose office studied this issue extensively), the amount contributed by these 32 exceeded the combined donations of 3.7 million average Americans. This effectively meant that 32 people had more influence and access than 3.7 million. Commenting on this imbalance, Senator Warren warned simply, “When 32 people can outspend 3.7 million citizens, our democracy is in real danger.”
Many constitutional scholars and pundits believe the imbalance of influence (especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision lifting campaign contribution limits) poses the single biggest existential threat to our democratic institutions.