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Old Money – Not

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

In your report on generous cultural philanthropists you describe Leonard Lauder as “Old Money” (“Donors: Who They Are,” Oct. 11).  Your description is intriguing in light of today’s obsession with income inequality and its associated meme that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  In fact, Mr. Lauder – despite your depiction of him wearing a top hat of the sort donned by the cartoon mascot of the board game “Monopoly” – is unlikely to fit the description of what most people mean by “old money,” and his fortune’s history belies the meme.

Mr. Lauder’s mother, Estée, was born in Queens to immigrant parents from Hungary.  In America they ran a hardware store at which young Estée worked.  She launched her cosmetics company (the eventual source of her and her children’s fortune) in 1946 – a mere 69 years ago and when Mr. Lauder himself was already a teenager.

With America beset by “old money” such as Leonard Lauder’s, Americans have good reason to slam-shut their copies of Thomas Piketty’s tome and to reject assertions that capitalism inexorably swells the fortunes of those already rich while preventing those of only modest means from becoming rich.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


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