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 you wrote this why......?

I love it when someone writes an article designed only to point out how terrible something is with no clear solution or even a suggested solution.

I'm sure Oprah's team will get 13% more hatemail today, since many don't know who these ultra-rich people are.

What the 11 richest people...

It surprises me how many folks read this article and misunderstand the point. It is all about fairness. The rich are getting richer while the rest of us struggle BECAUSE OF THE PREVAILING TAX CODES AND LOOPHOLES. Many of us middle clsss citizens pay more in taxes than the top 1%. Do you understand that the rich have continued to pile up their cash throughout this recession while many Americans cannot even feed their families or provide a home? CEOs increased their own salaries by nearly 30% while the middle class income has remained stagnant or declined. No one is advocating the elimination of rich people; we are advocating fairness and good citizenship and patriotism. We are proposing that we need EVERYONE to sacrifice, to feel some pain in order to get our beloved country back on its feet economically. Us working stiffs did not create this economic crisis - why should we expect teachers and city street crews and public health nurses to sacrifice while the rich continue to build their fortunes? That is what this article is trying to get you to understand.



It is not a loophole if it is in the tax code. Want equity the change thetax code.


What's fair about holding a gun to someone's head and taking their stuff because you think they have too much? 

Author Response

Who's holding a gun to anyone's head? Is that how you would collect taxes if you worked for the IRS?

Author Response - Solution

I wrote this post to educate, inspire, and drive change.

One solution is to get involved with United for a Fair Economy, the organization for which I wrote this post. Click the "Take Action" button on the top toolbar.

Here's a link to the Forbes list of the 400 Richest Americans - Now Oprah can be happy and wont receive 13% more hatemail.

This may sound downright

This may sound downright un-American to many of you but I think I would rather apply my knowledge in a clever fashion and leverage what I can to make myself rich instead of crying foul on those that have more than you. don't like where you're at? Then you had better quit wasting time whining on the internet and make moves. I would rather die struggling to an end than sitting on my ass with a bad attitude. Damn whiners...

Silly Stance

That is a bit of a silly stance.....

You would rather continue working uphill against a system that does not serve most people well instead of attempting to point out its wrongness and change it? I don't get it. This is a false dilemma. Why are you not able to work hard AND attempt to change the system?

Since when are activists "whiners"? And since when are people who want to change the system, "sitting on [their] ass[s] with a bad attitude"? In fact, I believe the definition of "activist" requires that they are NOT indeed, "sitting on their asses." I've got a 9-5 job, work 6 days a week, and get paid below average for my local average income. I'm putting myself through school at an average-ish priced University and have a 4.0 gpa. I come from a poor immigrant family. My mom was a high school dropout, teenage mother. By all accounts, I've pulled my bootstraps up harder than most. And because I believe that rich people aren't taxed enough and poorer people are taxed too much given their means.... that makes me a "whiner"? I think it just makes me an ethical and inquisitive human being. Please, someone tell me where this Lazy Whiner myth comes from! I'm inclined to think that the 1% started it. It's a highly suspicious, and illogical, stance.


And this my friend is capitalism.


And this my friend is crony capitalism.

Everyone misses the point here...

The point of this article was to show the distribution of wealth in this country. The richest one percent of the population's income would pay for all the things the author listed. He is not suggesting they should or that they would, just making a comparison, in terms that the average non-mathematician can understand, by giving concrete examples.

That's all.

Who Cares

Go to Somalia! If you do that,I am sure you will finally figure it out. By the way,My husband and I, just three years ago,under the Bush tax cuts, paid 16% on our income. Guess what,so did people making 500,000$ or more a year.While we paid on our full amount of income,they paid on only about 30%. If you have a college education and are so smart and hard working,do the math. The proof is in the pudding,so to speak. Mine and my husbands income, under 95,000$. We don't have to worry about paying all that now,since he is now unemployed,for over 99 weeks and no longer has an income,and my income has dropped by over half since I have some severe medical problems and can no longer work,and also can't draw federal Disability. Now we only have to worry about how to pay for my medical care,our home,and food for our 11 year old. You are NOT very smart to assume that everyone else is lazy. If you were not too lazy to do your own research,then history itself would teach you that the attitudes you share with the Republicans,do NOT work.

Just because they can doesn't

Just because they can doesn't mean they should. And they especially shouldn't be forced to do so by the government (higher taxes).

Bailouts aren't Entitlements?????

Jus Sayin!!!!

Just because they can doesn't excuse them from being responsible

I am suspicious that the stance against higher taxes is not a legitimate one from those posting on this thread.  If you have truly had to work hard then you would have more compassion for others.  Why is it that a young man can be forced to go into the military to fight in war, possibily giving up his life.....in my estimate this is worth more than 13 trillon dollars because you cannot buy it back!...and MEN holding billions of dollars in excess cannot pay taxes?????  Bullshit!!!!  

Capsized by Enron

Well I have worked my entire life to raise my family.  I went to college, saved my money for my retirement.  I paid my taxes and donated to charities to help others who needed help.  

ALL of my savings and investments evaporated overnight and now at the age of 78 I have to return to the workforce and my wife's medical needs are no longer being taken care of because our home owners insurance has skyrocketed.  

I cry myself to sleep some nights because we are worried about how we are going to live out the rest of our lives.  I did not do anything to deserve this.  I did the right things.  I pray for a change in the hearts of those who think this is the fault of those like me, those who worked hard for their companies and then got screwed by them...."because they can".

For You

Thank you for sharing your story. You and your wife deserve better. 

It is for people like you that I work so hard. 

For all the supposed capitalists on here:

If you're so in love with capitalism and your American dream of working hard to get ahead, then why do we even need a government? You'll tell me it's something about health, safety, and welfare, or you'll quote something about life before society being nasty, brutish, and short. 

I'd like to see where your version of capitalism would end up without government support to prop it up. I'd like to see what our cities would look like, how healthcare would function, how our schools would work, how our infrastructure would be built. Frankly, probably a lot better. I'd take real capitalism at this point. You--the "you're all lazy whiners" camp--must be thinking that "we all pay taxes, and we're all in this together." It's just not true. The lower your income, the higher your relative tax burden, whether from income tax, property tax, sales tax, an inability to pay for good tax preparation, or a simple lack of preferential tax treatment. In return, you have ridiculous medical bills that you must offest with ridiculously expensive insurance. You have crappy public education. If you want decent education, you'll pay increasingly higher tuition for it. You drive on crumbling roads. You deal with power outages, water quality warnings, declining local services, buying low quality goods from outsourcing companies. You're not part of a consumer culture by choice--you're forced into one as the price of goods and services relative to incomes skyrockets. Chances are you suffer the negative effects of living near pollution because zoning allows it to be concentrated in lower and middle income neighborhoods. You also eat a crappy diet with marginal nutritional value because that's all you can afford. I worked enough in tax law and corporate law to know that tax brackets are meaningless--they're merely a symbolic gesture, a way to allow the rich to say "look, we pay more! look!". When all is said and done, the rich pay exactly as much in taxes as they want--it's more of a charitable donation at this point. The most meaningful taxes they pay are property taxes, and those merely go into making the places they live beautiful and secure. Zoning and land use laws ensure they'll never have to deal with mixing with the lower classes.

So look around and ponder what this twisted version of capitalism has bought you. This isn't capitalism. There is no rags to riches anymore. There is no "we don't have a class system." There is no American dream. The last vestige of an American dream was the idea of owning a home, creating a little wealth, and leaving your children a little better off. That started to die in the 1970s and it breathed its last with the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Who are the rich?

I suggest all the liberal democrat rich people become examples and hand over their money... that would take care of half the problem, right?

Ok, ok... I understand what people are saying. But what is 'fair' anyways??  I mean, youd have to use a bell currve approach and use some sort of formula to determine who pays what. WOuld I like a change... sure, maybe.  Lets not forget that those 400 wealthy peoples taxes pay for a lot as well.

I think the problem is a systemic one, not a personal one. I think the US needs to crack down on what comes in and leaves the US. Increase exports and decrease imports. Then the country would keep more of its money 'in house'.

I received my masters degree and had $25k of student loans. What did I do? I worked weekends for 10 years to pay that debt off. Why? Becasue I owed it! Simple. AND I didnt want to pay a bunch of interest back.

People need to live within their means. Most people dont then complain when they get squeezed.

It would be great to be born into a family that was wealthy, although there is a lot to be said about lessons learned through tough times.

This article is meant to upset people towards the rich. Its not the rich that needs to change.. its everyone.. and the way the US manages its money needs to change mostly. We need a cap on the debt ceiling.

400 wealthiest families pay only 17% in taxes

Actually, they don't pay that much in taxes... probably far less than you do. That's because the vast majority of the income of the 400 wealthiest Americans is in the form of capital gains and dividend income from their investments, which benefit from a low top tax rate of 15%, compared to a top rate of 35% for income earned from work. On average, the 400 wealtheist Americans pay just under 17% in Federal Income Taxes. See http://www.palmettostaterivals.com/forums/showthread.php/7260-The-400-richest-Americans-only-pay-17-of-their-income-in-Fed.-Income-Tax and http://www.faireconomy.org/wealth_vs_work

Author Response

This article was not written to "upset people towards the rich." It was written to upset people toward our tax policies and loopholes that benefit the rich while sacrificing everyone else.

We absolutely need to raise the debt ceiling. Imagine how catastropic it would be if it weren't raised...

Anyway, the debt ceiling debate isn’t even about raising the limit; it’s about the republicans using the issue as a political weapon to gain concessions.

Furthermore, not raising the debt ceiling is unconstitutional – it’s part of the 14th amendment. We have the constitutional obligation to raise it. Simple. Cut and dry.

Stop Talking Rubbish!

This article is disgusting...  And a waste of space.  Why does anyone find it necessary to illustrate wealth distribution, unless they are trying to make a point?  

If you talk or support this commie rhetoric you don't belong in America.  You are not advocates of fairness, simply your own greed and jealousy for what you don't have.

Author Response

The point is clear: I am advocating a change in tax policy; hence the post being written on a blog for United for a Fair Economy, an organization with a stated goal of "changing the rules that tilt tax benefits toward the wealthy." 

Commie rhetoric? Are you sure? Adam Smith, the founder and father of Capitalism stated in his book, The Wealth of Nations:

"It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." Book 5

"The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities." Book 5, Chapter II

"What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable." Book 1, Chapter VIII

So, would you consider Adam Smith a communist?


and who said I wasn't already rich?


Rich doesn't mean "responsible for the debt, mortgages, college loans of others".  I'm not rich. I do have debt. But I'm responsible for that because I made it. 

If you don't live beyond your means to have a life full of creature comforts, it's possible to be comfortable on a meager salary.  People do far more with less than I have.  I have to look at that. 

Why don't you write a useful article about people who have litttle and stretch it to help themselves and to help others like those twin sisters in Knoxville who run the love kitchen?

Why are people always on about what the rich could do?  They aren't doing it, so stop pining away after some other person's money and strive to do better with your own.

being a pessimist never gets anyone any closer to a goal. Stop being the Eeyores of the universe.


This article is the type of article that makes me wish we just killed these sons of bitches.  Fuck this.  


This article is the type of article that makes me wish we just killed these sons of bitches.  Fuck this.  

Where did that absurd wealth come from?

Just a reminder that many of the super-wealthy have inherited money that originated in crime, or by actions that today would be considered criminal. Take the Seagrams family for example. They are rich because their forebears illegally sold liquor into the US during Prohibition. Going further back in time, some descendants of European royalty have money because their ancestors stole land by force. These people did not create their wealth themselves. It is just that the passage of time laundered the money for them. So, if the wealth derives from ill-gotten gains, why should it not be taxed? An even bigger question, where is the proof that the super-wealthy (no matter what the source of the wealth) are creating jobs with their tax-free money? I don't see it happening. Show me this magical trickle-down effect, please.

money creation

once we know that money is created by debt, by a accounting entry in banks books and they are using double entry accounting; well someone has to get the credit for your debt. no wonder that the 400 richest can repay all debt. they got it  when it was created

Fractional Reserve Banking

The media has done its job well in this country. Thanks to all the charts and graphs provided by the major news corporations, most of us have been misdirected by their "magic." All of these arguments are moot because it doesn't matter whether we cut spending or raise taxes (both were done in the Clinton years) in order to get a balanced budget (again, Clinton years), our DEBT still went up over that period. Why, you ask? Because in our current situation, we can NEVER get out of debt to the international bankers.

Every dime that is currently in circulation came into existence through a loan to someone. Not one single dime is ever created without a debt being attached to it. On top of that, interest is charged. The bankers demand that "their money" (created out of thin air) be paid back with interest. But they never created the interest.

So, we (both rich and poor) must find the interest somewhere. But ultimately the interest must come into existence as debt - so, debt MUST increase. The rich have an advantage, they can obtain the money to pay their interest through cutting spending or increasing prices in their place of business. OR, they can demand higher dividends in their investment portfolios. They get the money they owe the bankers - no problem. 

The rest of us however must claw and fight to make enough money to get out of debt. Even if we manage to do that, eventually we will go into debt again...it's inevitable. You can't buy a home hardly without debt. You can hardly buy a car without borrowing. Add credit cards (the most horrific invention known to man) to the mix and we're through.

I would ask all my fellow progressives to consider that our course of action should be to end Fractional Reserve Banking rather than seeking to raise taxes on the rich. Were we to switch to a system of Social Credit (as proposed by the American Monetary Institute and Dennis Kucinich), we would eliminate this slavery that we ALL operate under - rich and poor. 

Certainly a more fair and equitable tax system needs to be invented, and the people at the Henry George Institute already have one - the Land Value Tax. There are already many people advocating this tax: the Green Party, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nadar. Were we to implement these two ideas and eliminate fractional reserve banking, the issues that plague us would largely be eliminated.

The numbers are wrong!

How the author arrived at these numbers is completely dodgy, and here is why:  The author is quoting paper wealth, or in finance speak:  asset wealth (book value).  In other words, in order to obtain all the cash to do what this author says they can do, the richest 400 mentioned here, would need to sell all their assets at once.  That means a complete bankruptcy style liquidation to obtain the cash to make these purchases he notes, (like cars for everyone, etc).  There is a huge mathematical mishap here, because you need to look at the purchasing power of the wealthy, not their theoretical purchasing power on paper, which just reflects the value of the assets they legally control.  (That is a key difference, but not the scope of this response!) But it's important to note that they would be lucky to get 10% for those on a great day during a liquidation.  So unless you think the top 400 are going bankrupt all at once, and in a mythical world could get full price for everything, instead of garage sale prices, we need to be realistic here.....   To arrive at the real number, which is their actual ability purchase things, you need to look at their annual income or annual earnings.  If you were to then adjust your numbers accordingly, and instead quote them in earnings per year, like the gini coefficient does (used by economists for real scientific empirical research, not political hype) then you would show that buying anything on this list is completely impossible.  Furthermore, this debate about taxing is idiotic, because taxing the rich is done on an income basis anyways.  This is actually basic kindergarten math, and it's frustrating to see this proposed by people over and over again, because it makes no mathematical sense at all.  They don't have the money to pay off everyone's student loans or pay off the national debt.  While you make a philosophical argument that you should tax them more, let it be that... a philosophical one.  Even if you are right and we should do that, it's not going to make more than a small dent in things - and the politicians in Washington know that, and that is why this debate is asinine and just done to buy votes from poor people that don’t have a real financial education. 

Author Response - The Math is 100% Correct

You have missed the point of this post.

I never once suggested "obtaining" or taking the wealth of anyone. Nor did I even use the word "cash." Nor did I suggest the wealthy sell anything they own. I wrote a post that outlined what the "wealth," the assets, of the richest 400 Americans could theoretically purchase, with the intent to put their enormous wealth into perspective.

Higher tax rates for capital gains and dividends would certainly make a huge dent on the economy and the country. I'm not sure how you could suggest otherwise. The taxing on the rich is also not done only on an "income basis." if taxes were so simple, the rich, or even you for that matter, wouldn't hire personal accountants... and the IRS's job would be much easier. Our tax system is so incredibly complex that even Congressmen, who write these laws, hire accountants to help them understand their own taxes.

Many politicians in Washington do not support raising the capital gains tax because so many of them are already millionaires, with significant investments in corporations, and are funded by corporations. Would you vote to:

  1. Raise your own taxes?
  2. Decrease investment in your own company?
  3. Damage the organization that paid for you to get your position?

I think not. So why would a politician do so?

Lastly, since when is a tax debate idiotic? Isn't that what our country was founded upon? American citizens outraged by taxes imposed by the British?

Response to your capital gains comments.

No my motivation here is to remind you that you need a financial education before you can debate in a financial world.  Again it's about the math.  You just admitted that they could not buy all those things at once.  Therefore that proposition is complete fantasy.  Done… now time to move on.

About capital gains and company ownership… Let’s put this in context.  Suppose you are Steve Jobs and you start Apple Computer in your garage. Many years later Apple grows into a huge company, that for one reason or another you own 20% of. You theoretically command 20% of the assets of the company and 20% of the votes of the company you partly own.  When you never sell your ownership in that company, you have not gained any capital, thus you will not be taxed at all because there was absolutely no capital gain.  You could make the capital gains tax 100% and you would never put a dent in Steve Jobs’ wealth!  I hope this makes sense.   Actually, if you look at the numbers, I think raising the capital gains tax would have earned the government a whopping 76 billion dollars last year, which is almost nothing compared the huge size of our economy.

A Quick Blurb About The Economics and Politics of Capital Gains… and why our politicians rarely vote for an increase:

While it is true that the rich would pay the most in total dollars with an increase in capital gains taxes, it would only be in terms of total dollars taxed, not in total payers.  In other words, the largest percentage of people that pay capital gains tax are the, “the middle class,” (defined as making under 50K), which is about 35.8% of those tax payers that earn less than 50K who pay capital gains tax. (2006 return data). So you would actually be hitting the, “middle class,” the hardest in terms of the number of tax payers that would have to individually pay a capital gains tax.  But if you look at total number of dollars paid out, the rich (defined as making 200K or more per year) pay 80.2% of the total capital gains taxes collected (2006 return data).  The irony is that you would have actually found a way to hurt the middle class, far worse than the rich, but obtain a nice source of government revenue paid for by primarily by the rich.  

Since the rich can afford it, they would not mind as much as the independent voters you just shafted who might feel a larger pinch and now vote against you in the upcoming election. 

That my friend is why the politicians never vote out the Bush tax cuts on the capital gains tax.  Not your points 1, 2 and 3.

Why the math is correct

Before I leave you with that last reply.let me re-iterate...Let me remind you that you did imply everything I wrote to the, ‘t’.  You need to sell the assets before you can purchase anything, especially since you priced those items in dollars that the rich can buy.  How else can you obtain those dollars?  (manna from heaven?!?)   It's impossible otherwise, even in your "theoretical" model.  So for arguments sake or otherwise – that is exactly what you did say! You have to convert the assets to cash to obtain the purchasing power to buy those assets.  It’s impossible to do what you suggest otherwise.  Therefore you example of sheer wealth is just wrong.   

Does it really matter

It doesnt really matter how much the rich have. Sure it would be nice to have all of that money but have you ever noticed what happens to the rich.  They get really stuck up and think there better than everyone else because they have money.  The way i see it i have a good life.  Maybe i dont have all that money and i have bills but i have a good life with a loving family and thats all that i need to be happy not millions of dollars.

Good for the rich.

these people are rich for a reason.  They didn't just get all of their money for doing nothing, they most likely took a risk in starting a business and became succesful.  In doing so they have provided jobs for us, "so called" poor people, and really have payed our salaries, gave us bonuses, etc.  I personally think that this entire article has a communist/socialsit tone to it that is simply screaming, "Spread the Wealth", which is completly incorrect.

Good of the many

It doesn't matter how much money you have or make, what matters is how much you are allowed to inherit.

Money far beyond what will ever be spent is just power and it is against our principles to have people born with power over us. 

We don't want or need a hereditary aristocracy in the United States.

That former juvenile delinquet punk who just turned eighteen and got control of his billion dollar trust fund can fly to DC and be doing lunch with your congressman the very next day while you, who have been a pillar of your community for fifty years but never held office or made more than a five figure salary, will be lucky to get a few moments on his schedule six weeks down the road.   That kid inherited a big chunk of your political representation. 

Inherited wealth has to be kept to some sort of limit.  The estate tax is a terrible mistake; clearly it should have been an inheritance tax. 

Most people have no idea how unfair the playing field has become.  In just one example: By placing their fortunes in permanent trust funds, the very wealthiest no longer have to worry about losing big lawsuits or even debt collectors, let alone about most taxes!

Most people never will understand most of these things because all they will hear is some political one-liner that will either imply that rich people are free-loaders or that people who say rich people are free-loaders must be un-American socialists.

Most people will not understand that when too much of the wealth is concentrated in too few hands, everyone else is just a slave, regardless of how pleasant it is under the yoke.

And most people will never understand that, when the wealth gets too concentrated, the free-market economy fails and it usually signifies the end of the goverment, one way or another.  The rich typically suffer when this happens, too, which is a good indicator they don't have some Illuminati scheme going on, they are just trying to get ahead in the game by knowing and exploiting the rules.

If someone earns 50 billion dollars in their lifetime, fine and good, it is theirs, no question.  No one, however, should be passed more than a few hundred million through any inheritance, no matter how large.

Of course, if science licks the old age problem, as looks at least somewhat possible in the next few decades, then even a well planned inheritance tax won't be sufficient.

Finally, no one will make much progress in getting anything straightened out until we place real term limits on Congress because when every politician is focused on reelection they are only peripherally focused on doing the right thing -- AT BEST!                                                         





 This list is not important by itself...but it is fun to read! BTW, there are some very intelligent comments on this page. I taught economice for 31 years and it's nice to see how many get it.

"you would have destroyed the

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

lavage de vitres granby