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The Ten Richest Americans in History

Adjusted for inflation, who are the richest Americans in history measured in money?  CNNMoney has the scoop.  (HT Rob Wilson)

I’ve looked so far at only the first ten.  Of them, only one – Stephen Van Rensselaer (#6 on the list) – inherited a large fortune.  All of the others began life either modestly or, like #1, J.D. Rockefeller, began life downright, hard-scrabble poor.

These facts are powerful evidence against Thomas Piketty’s thesis.  (It’s interesting to note that Van Rensselaer apparently didn’t collect all of the literal rents that were owed on his property.  He did, however, found the great polytechnic school that is near the top of my son’s list of colleges to attend.)

Had I more time now, I’d repeat here one of my favorite themes – one that I’ll only hint at by asking any middle-class American now reading my words if he or she would trade places with the J.D. Rockefeller of, say, 1890 (or, for that matter, of whatever year the man was alive).  I wouldn’t trade places with him – and it’s not even close to being a close call.  So this fact means that I’m materially richer than was J.D. Rockefeller.  My guess is that most of you who are reading these words now are the same as me in this regard – which means that we are all wealthier than is the American who in history owned the largest inflation-adjusted stock of money and financial assets.


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