11 Things the Richest U.S. Households Can Buy That You Can’t

June 09, 2011

The 400 wealthiest families in the U.S. aren't just filthy rich, they are downright dirty. Collectively, these households own $1.37 trillion dollars; a number so high that it's nearly impossible to comprehend. Here are 11 shocking things $1.37 trillion can buy that you can't.

In the U.S., accumulating this kind of wealth is the "American Dream." Getting rich is the result of hard work; padding your bank account is applauded and encouraged. But at what cost? Have we created economic policies that cater to the wealthy, in hopes that we will someday be among them?

Perhaps in today's economy, we have allowed the wealthy to get too far ahead financially.

Case in point: today, the wealthiest families in the U.S. are sickeningly, obscenely rich, to the tune of $1.37 trillion dollars. And unlike the rest of us, they don’t have outstanding medical bills or student loans, trouble paying credit card debt, or live paycheck to paycheck.

So how much is $1.37 trillion dollars? To demonstrate just how much money this is, here are 11 things that the richest 400 households in the U.S. can buy with their "hard-earned" cash:

  • The richest 400 households can pay off every student loan for every single student in the entire United States. No more paying for an education, so that you can get a good job so that you can... well, pay off your education.
  • The richest 400 can pay off all credit card debt for every single person in the entire United States. Imagine that! No more credit card debt looming over your shoulders!
  • The richest 400 households can afford to triple the number of teachers in the United States, then give every single one a $30,000 raise. Teachers are being laid off everywhere, their salaries are being cut, and they are suffering. Teacher-to-student ratios in schools are abysmal. But what can we do about it when so much wealth is in the pockets of so few families?
  • The richest 400 families alone could replace 70% of all money lost in the Great Recession, for everyone! How much money did you, your parents, or grandparents lose in the Great Recession of 2008? 30%, 50% of your portfolio? Not only do the rich still have enough money to fund their wildest dreams, but they can also fund your retirements.

As you can see, the wealthiest families in the U.S. are doing just fine. And with this money has come a great deal of political influence, often in the form of tax breaks and tax loopholes. Their influence on policy has made it easy for the rich to stay rich [and get richer].

And until this winner-take-all economy changes, it will remain nearly impossible for us regular folks to get ahead, no matter how hard we work.


And the rich get richer and

And the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

And the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

Blessed are the poor.

Take all their money!

But what props you up in Year Two of your Glorious Equality?


the next thousand households

Author Response

No one is advocating taking all their money, by any means. That would not only be disastrous, but communism. What props equality up? Fair taxes, every year, just as the founder of capitalism, Adam Smith, advocated. 

The rich get richer and the

The rich get richer and the poor get children.

Who Cares?

Really who cares? I am not rich I have some credit card debt, I am upside down on my house but I am current. I have a car payment that I make every month. I wish it was at a lower rate but because of life choices that I made it is not. I am college educated and put myself through college and the only thing I racked up debt on was my school books. I have a job, I have healthcare and I enjoy my life. I wish I was more finically stable but I am not and that’s ok, in time I will get there.

Who are you to suggest that the Government strong holds the rich and take their wealth. I'd like to see what kind of Television you have, cause if it's bigger then mine I think I might just want to take it. How about you get yourself a job and make your own money, and then you can give your wealth away any damn way you please. I am tired of hearing people complain about what they do not have, instead of just being thankful for what they to have. This sense of entitlement is out of control in this country.

Product of my environment my ass! Product of lazy asses who do not want to work for a damn thing, no aspirations. “Damn man God just dealt me a shitty hand” BS! What did you do this morning when you woke up to make sure that you do not reach retirement age and not have a pot to piss in? Petitioning your congressman or woman to take the riches money does not count. This isn’t India you are not stuck in a class system that you can never get out of.

I wake up everyday and thank God for my 20 year old 1390 square foot house that needs a new bathroom, and needs a new roof. I am thankful for my 5 and 6 year old cars. I am thankful that I did it all myself and I am proud of everything I have.

I left Detroit 18 years ago because there were no jobs. I left my Family to pursue my dreams of being better off then my family is. I did what I had to do to make it and I am making it, there have been bumps in the road but that is life. I say good on you rich folks. I may never be as well off as you but I am going to continue to try.

Mr. Who Cares?

You deserve a huge pat on the back for working so hard. But you miss the point here. Distribution of U.S. wealth in 2007 was as follows: Top 1% 33.8%, 90-99 percentile 37.7%, 50-90 percentile 26% and the bottom 50% (yes 1/2 of US citizens) 2.5%. The Gini coefficient which is used as a measure of inequality of income or wealth indicated that in 2008 the U.S. now has the same distribution of wealth category as Mexico (.45-.49) and hats off to Australia and Canada with some of the most fair wealth distributions (.30-.34). Australia's fairness derives from strong labor unions in my opinion. One last point, the average wage in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009 showed average earnings by workers was $18.52 in 2008, it was $18.76 in 1979. Yet the cost of living has gone up obviously since 1979. In 2007 people who were in the top 11% of total wealth owned 71.50% of the U.S. total wealth. Is this fair wealth distribution? Do you think these people pay lobbyists to make sure laws and policies help them and not your average American?

Difference between wealth and income ??

The conversation of these issues is frozen at the almost pre-school level.

It seems that most Americans do not even really understand tax brackets, marginal income, the difference between wealth and income, the reasoning behind a progressive tax or a liberal society, what we mostly get exposed to is fear, and greed ... things that freeze people in a certain mindset, which operates in favor of the status quo or favors even more and larger abuses.

There is income, then there is wealth, there is rate of return on things people own, such as food which is zero, or a car which is usually negative, or a work of art or real estate which is positive, or trancendental things such as political power or goodwill or being able to buy goodwill such as PR or even military power.

Someone needs to write a book that simplifies, but faithfully, the fundamental basics of power and ownership to put things in perspective for people.

<blockquote>Someone needs to

<blockquote>Someone needs to write a book that simplifies, but faithfully, the fundamental basics of power and ownership to put things in perspective for people.</blockquote>

Tis been done:

NY Times collumnist Henry Hazzlit's <q href="http://www.fee.org/library/books/economics-in-one-lesson/">Economics in One Lesson</a> is pretty good.

For people wanting a little more meat:

Rothbard's <a href="http://mises.org/Books/mespm.PDF">Man Economy and State with Power and Market</a>


the american dream

The bottom 50 i would guess college students, unemplyed, fastfood, wal-mart, and people who want to live off the system. Just go to school and like magic you can earn at least enugh to be in the top 50.


It doesn't take a big screen TV to see the big picture. The tax code and the financial regulations are designed by and for people who can afford to leverage their already spectacular wealth into political power. Your tired 'bootstraps' canard ignores the reality that the deck has been deliberately stacked and as a result, we've seen a decades long concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. Are you so naive as to believe that because your situation isn't bad that everyone else who is in a bad way is lazy or stupid or undisciplined? That's just arrogant and dismissive on your part.  Productivity has increased by 55% at the same time as wages have stagnated. The middle class is not benefitting but the ultra-wealthy continue to increase their economic control and political power. Yet your case is that because it hasn't affected you personally, its not real?  Guess what? Just because the sun's shining on your house doesn't mean its not dark somewhere else in the world.

Thank you!

While I understand the point of the article was to outrage the average American I agree with the Who Cares? point of view. I don't have much but what I have I earned and I am happy with that. I don't want to take from someone else what I have not worked for regardless of whether on not they worked for it.  Take pride in what you do and if it's not enought for the lifestyle you want work harder...



Who Cares?

Go back to your Dream World, You are doing just what the powerful want you to. Enjoy!

What a great attitude!!

You totally hit the nail on the head. We get out of life what we put in. Some people married rich, some inherited rich, some through their own hard work became rich. How can we hate on people that actually worked hard to get what they have?

Good for You

This has nothing to do with hard work and lazy, fair and unfair, but reasonable and unreasonable. The government has always had a responsibility to keep checks and balances which would benefit the entire nation and contain any monsters that might get out of control. Also, do you honestly think rich people got where they are the old fashioned way--through American hard work and a Horatio Algers entrepreneurial spirit? This article points out that if we were tax the rich a little more 1) they obviously wouldn't miss it and 2) the funds could go to benefit this country in so many ways for everywhere, not just the rich or the poor. 

profits are taxes

 Being thankful is awesome, we should all be thankful because things could always be worse. That said the decisions of the few in question here are clearly making my life and yours more complicated, needlessly complicated to perpetuate their schemes and this just plain sucks. They are not benevolent towards you. Based on the actions and choices they make that steer society far, far away from any one person having a voice proportionate to their being instead of their bank account, until they get right sized, their actions will still betray a basic malevolence that runs through our entire society. Call it what it is: class war. Sure you are holding on for now. Whatever you do, don't get sick. 

I put myself through college

I put myself through college too, but walked out the state university door saddled with $32,000 in loans that I used to meet sky-rocketing tuition even while working 30-40 hours week.  There's no work for new graduates, even bright, capable, straight-A kids who overcame the odds by pulling themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps.  So I take non-paying internship after non-paying internship and fill up all every hour between waiting tables.  I can't get employer-based health insurance because most restaurant owners can't afford it, I can't get state health insurance because I make just over $2,000 a month, I can't buy health insurance because $1,500 of that money goes to paying back those student loans, rent, and insurance for my 15 year old car.  I can't move for the few jobs that are available because I don't have more than $50 or so to put in saving at the end of every month.  So I work and I work and I work and I stay exactly where I am.

I left my home and my family to do greater things just like you, I am proud of what I accomplished just like you, I am grateful for everything that I have just like you.  But unlike you, who obviously worked your way to a better life in a healthier economic time, I am aware that "getting yourself a job and making your own money" is something that people WANT to do and many can't.  I am aware that calling people who struggle lazy is short-sighted and shows that the accuser has absolutely no grasp of reality, let alone empathy.

I'm glad you're content with your current situation, but I hope for your sake you don't ever get so sick, or loose that car, or have a house fire that knocks your perfectly balanced budget that you worked so hard for off kilter.  But if you do, people like the rest of us who fight for sane, balanced fiscal and government reform will probaby be there to help you through a rough patch while some asshole who's has no idea who you are and how hard you orked for something better writes you off as a lazy whiner.

This is a great reply....thank you :)

I know it probably means very little to say that, but you said much of what I was hoping to say. Part of the problem with the concentrating wealth in this country is that it is rarely about honest, hard work. It is often built on the back of dishonesty, political favors, inheritance, marriage, and the like. Someone earlier said we don't have a caste system like in India (or a class system like in many other countries). Really? Maybe this was not the case in previous generations, but I can look around and see some pretty reified and well definied lines between classes. Just study the foreclosure crisis, even a little bit, and you'll see how wealth was built on the back of a false dream of homeownership that was sold to people in dishonest, racist, inequitable ways. People need to stop thinking that their current situation is not tied to those 400 very wealthy families. I'm sure some of those families built their fortunes off hard work, entrepreneurship, etc., but let's remember that hard work only pays off when the playing field is level. Now that it's so tilted, I wonder if those 400 families would have been able to get where they are as easily.

Author Response

You are proud to be a taxpaying American and pay your share. As am I. However, what if your tax rate had always been higher? Would you fight to keep it high as you are fighting now to keep it low? Or would you fight to lower it? If it had always been high, would you be content with high tax rates, just as you are content now? Why advocate no change? Simply because it is human nature to be averse to it?

The betterment of all Americans is at stake. It is time for a change.

Well said. Impressive!

Well said. Impressive!

Changing Perceptions and Results

So true on many levels! There have been different shifts and seasons of economic growth and opportunities. What worked to be successful has changed alot in the past 3-4 decades and will probably change even more.  Many people are going back to school and getting degrees..Supply and demand will allow employers to pay less for degreed Emp. The bubbles burst again.

1+1=4 NOT! Work yourself to death with necessities. Meanwhile rent, food, utilites go up and your working for the same or less. The above poster is so right about the timing of things. Once you HAVE money however/whenever you got it, life is easier or more comfortable. So the perception is what it is whether you are 20 or 55. (working, dating, anything) Times have REALLY changed!

Please strive for balance and remember that no matter how much/little money you have if you ain't happy RIGHT NOW it won't matter....



Author Response

I do not own a television.

you make a great point.

you make a great point.


That is a great response Who Cares?!

$1.37 trillion.

The article was not about taking money away from the rich to pay for any of the items on the list. It was merely an effort to put the scale of that wealth into something that most people could understand. The real point is that the rich and the corporations have seized control of congress and are pushing policies that only benefit them and not the rest of the country. They want to regulate themselves which would be a disaster for the rest of us. The real question you should be asking,"Is how much money is enough?" How much income can make someone financially secure? How many houses does one family need?

College Educated?

Wow! "I say good ON YOU rich folks"? I'm not even going to edit anymore of this pitiful piece but I am going to make some observations. First, I can't believe you are college educated! Secondly, you are obviously not a critical thinker! Thirdly, you obviously have a marked inablility to empathize with others and their particular plights experienced in life! Fourthly, you obviously have a very poor understanding of World and U.S. History if you think everyone can, let me paraphraze, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". Do you understand that there are those who have been disenfranchised, enslaved, abused, impoverished, etc. ad naseaum throughout the world by evil despotic rulers and business people THROUGHOUT history? Are you able to abstract on any level beyond who you are, what you've done or what you have acomplished? Are you so narcissistic to actually believe that you are the standard by which everyone else is to be evaluated and judged? When you pull together all of your knowledge about the world, America, economic systems, political systems, the nature of man, the nature of good and evil and how they interplay with each other is this all you can piece together?!! We are certainly happy that you are successful, happy and pleased with yourself and what you have done. However, it may now be time to move out of the ME and move into the WE. If not for yourself, do it for your children's and your grandchildren's future. I am afraid you have little understanding of the dire times in which we live.

Here's a couple of ideas for you to struggle with: Party think is Stink think! Vote for ethical, honorable, intelligent men/women.

Men (males) are and have been the perpetrators of, my guess, 95% to98% of the evil throughout history. And I am talking about probably less than 10% of all men. It takes only a few with power to inflict great harm on the masses! Abstract that thought!

Sorry about being so harsh. But when you produce something like this and publish it, you invite critical responses!

I care.

Thank you for posting this and giving us some perspective on just what their wealth amounts to.  Please consider a similiar article on what their tax would be pre-Bush tax cuts and what that would pay for.  Also, how interlocking directories play into their corporate incomes.

Many of these folks are Adam Smith, free market acolytes who cherry pick his writings.  Smith advocated that each should pay according to their means.  These folks clearly are not paying "according to their means."   Before he wrote "The Wealth of Nations," he wrote "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" and he prescribed to the notion of "noblisse oblige"--to whom much is given, much is expected.

The tax laws and codes favor them while demanding more from the bottom 99% of the population.  I doubt that they consider themselves Americans because they would be watching their country go down in flames and apparently, not caring one whit. 

Useful idiots - unfortunately

It is sad when people attack others in the same wealth class for opinions that should be almost universal. Such as rampant corporate greed and corruption in our political system. I'm talking about anyone whose majority of their income comes from WORK. Real work. Not dividends, stocks and mommy and daddies money, but people who educate the future workforce, put out fires, put on a military uniform, run businesses with the intent of longevity and healthy profits vs. slash and burn quick profiteering, CREATE REAL WEALTH like putting together the cars we drive and the houses we live in. Not electronic money and debt being passed around on super computers trading at tenths of a second.

If you are sitting there saying "good for you rich people" in your poor small mind you think you are going to be that rich greedy person someday as well. The funny part is, they are getting a kick out of individuals like you who hold up their protest signs FOR THEM convincing the rest of America, that what is best for the billionaire ruling class, is what is best for everyone else. That is so false and mind-blowingingly obvious I don't know how more people don't see it. But it is sad.

The billionaires don't care about you. And they are shipping all of the good paying jobs overseas. "Oh but I am going to start my own Coca-Cola company someday, so I'll be fine"...right? Don't you want to work your way to a WELL PAYING job someday? The less and less the professionals at the low end get paid, the less and less YOU will get paid. Unless you OWN the company, doesn't that sink in to anyone’s head? A college degree used to get you a very solid entry-level position at a company, now you are lucky to get an unpaid internship. More likely you will end up working in the serving industry, or retail and you know it is true.

So let's all stop focusing our energy on the "lazy poor people" that if they just magically found some money and pulled themselves up bi thur booot straaps wouldn't be poor anymore, and focus on those who have the most money and the most power, and use the power of democracy to ensure we elect people that do not intend to destroy the middle class and the country as quickly as possible, for short term political and monetary gain. Or we can just fire every teacher, fire fighter, Soldier, Nurse and police officer in America and save some money and charge businesses 0% taxes so they will "hire". Please, give me a damn break.



That's true. I was going to

That's true. I was going to say that the mindset is based on the desire to become greedy, hoarding, and wealthy as well. The author of the original comment said, "Someday I will [be rich], too."

The man in the mirror

You are obsessed with the rich. If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change. Ha! I'd really love to sit down with you and explain how our economic system works. You are a slave to it instead of being empowered by it. I blame our educational system. We already have a system that takes from the rich and gives to the poor. It never works long term though. If that's your plan, you'll be just as angry as you are now for the rest of your life.

Tax away all 1.37 tirllion of thier wealth

And if the Govrenment took every dime from those 400 families, what effect would it have on next years Federal budget? The Government would only have to get a few trillion dollars more from the rest of us to pay the rest.

Author Response

Again, no one is advocating that. Please read my previous responses.

And not a dime of it earned


this kind of article is misdirected and pointless

it also makes progressives look bad, or jealous, or just plain clueless.

there are lots of good reasons people who make more money and have more money should pay more taxes ... period.

it has nothing to do with the magnitude of how much more the richest 400 people have ... until the society gets so unbalanced that it reaches pathological proportions.  in that case fear-mongering or whipping up hate may serve to rile up people, but does it really provide a constructive direction to take or a vision of the future ... i submit it does not.

because the richest 400 people could do any number of things really does not matter, what matters is the overall balance of society and are we doing what we need to do to sustain the planet and the population and have a civilization that will not lead to misery, war, disease, violence, etc.

just taking money from the rich does not solve problems ... in fact if someone had the perfect provable plan for the future it costed it out to the very amount of money owned by these 400 people, then there might even be a discussion to have, but the point is that most of what we see in terms of facts and discussions in the media or chat boards do not lead to anything constructive, educational, inspiring, etc.

the world needs a basic global vision for his this planet should run that is minimally invasive, yet takes everyone and their rights into account and takes from everyone only what is absolutely necessary, but does not shirk from doing that because of the power of rich elites either.

I completely agree

Thank you so much for explaining this so people stop bitchin

Fear doesn't solve anything

Thank you. Fearmongering is not useful. More money just makes you able to be more you. If you're generous, you can be more generous. If you're greedy, then you'll be more greedy.

its not their fault ppl got

its not their fault ppl got loans and are poor. this article is stupid.


Heres a question.


Is it okay for Jon Stewart to make millions of dollars a year, hes not "too rich" is he.  How about Justin Bieber is he "too rich". Well Bill Gates is surely "too rich". Okay lets admit it, all of these people are "too rich".

Oh dear lets be all "citizens of the world". Now every american (even the poor ones) are "TOO RICH" we better make everyone equally POOR.  

This article isn't about rich

This article isn't about rich people being "too rich". It's about the fact that the wealth of our country lies with a small percentage, and that percentage is getting tax cuts so they're not even contributing to the well-being of our country. The middle class is shrinking, and the middle and lower class are paying a greater percentage of their paychecks to taxes, while the people who hold the majority of the wealth of our country are paying less.

I don't care if these people are rich, but it does make me sad that they have so much money while my state is struggling to have enough money to educate children. Shouldn't it be patriotic to contribute to the country that you are a citizen of?


Though I am saddened by the wealth gap, I want to clear up a common misconception about taxes on the rich.  You mentioned that "the wealth of our country lies with a small percentage, and that percentage is getting tax cuts so they're not even contributing to the well being of our country."  Well fortunately, that is not the case at all.

After the Bush tax cuts, the top 1% of earners in America pay 40% of the nation's total taxes.  For comparison, during the Carter administration, the top 1% paid only 19% of the nation's taxes.  Bush's much-hated tax cuts actually made the tax system more progressive than it had been in years.

Those are the facts.  If we want to find a real solution to our country's economic problem, we need to base our discussions on the truth and not fear mongering, anger, or partisan politics.

the richest one percent owns

the richest one percent owns more than forty percent of the wealth, therefore they should be paying more than forty percent of the taxes.  they pay disproportionately low taxes.

Boot Straps my A..!

Amazing are those that claim to be hard working, self made, when they were born into a household that belongs to the top 7% wealthier of the worldwide population. Those that having born on third base and believe they hit a triple. Those that are deluded by the dream of being part of the 1%, you know, the Joe the Plumber syndrome sufferers. Good for them, I guess they fit well within the Matrix. Me, as pissed and frustrated as I can be, when the same day I hear our President, in his insistent conciliatory tone towards those that can only wish to get rid of him, saying he is willing not to talk raising taxes for the rich and minutes later hearing on the radio that California State University Regents (my daughters being students of the system) are certain to raise tuition fees because of the diminishing state contribution to their budget. And please do not get me wrong, I am an entrepreneur also, but I do not confuse profits with greed. Arab Spring, Spain M15, Greek revolts and now Italy next, little by little, the youth of the world are awaking to their political power and they are pissed and they are using it to get rid of those that repress them. Those that after having so summarily screwed us all, still want to force the "little people" to pay for their unrestrained greed. If only the youth in the USA would also awaken against those bent on increasing power and privilege, being damned the rest.

It's only $4,567 per person

1.37 Trillion dollars divided by the US population of 300 million is only $4,567 per person, so stop drooling. You'd only get to do that once, one single time, and you would have destroyed the wealth of the people who fund all the new business and projects that actually create NEW wealth through innovation. The US debt is 13 trillion dollars, what has that gotten you?


That's 456,700.00 dimwit


Check your calculator, the dimwit is right.

The same old canard

"you would have destroyed the wealth of the people who fund all the new business and projects that actually create NEW wealth through innovation."

Ha! If this was the case, we wouldn't have any unemployment issues as this upper class of people have had tax breaks/incentives/loopholes for years and haven't created any jobs. 


Nice try, but....

citing anything by Krugman after he received his Nobel and went batshit crazy isn't going to win over anyone that understands economics. 

Author Response

Again, no one is advocating taking all their wealth. See my previous comment.

"When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work...

... ask him, "Whose?" " - quote from Don Marquis

For some, income and wealth do come from pure hard work.

For others, income and wealth come not only from institutionalized privilege but also from the exploitation of those further down in the corporate or business structure than them, whether in their own company or in society.