The Forbes Ridiculously Rich 400

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The latest annual Forbes magazine numbers on America’s richest 400 have just come out. The personal fortunes of our nation’s 400 deepest pockets, Forbes tells us, now average $5.8 billion each.

A little historical context makes that figure even more impressive. Forbes began its annual top 400 tally in 1982. Our top 400 averaged back then, in today’s dollars, $570 million. In effect, after inflation, our wealthiest have multiplied their wealth more than tenfold since 1982.

And the rest of us? Forbes doesn’t count our fortunes. Economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman do, and they've just updated their stats. Between 1982 and 2012, their figures show, households in America’s bottom 90 percent saw their average net worth, after taking inflation into account, increase less than 1 percent per year.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.