Elites / Rich

Allen, Michael Patrick. The Founding Fortunes: A New Anatomy of the Super-Rich Families in America. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989. 438 pages.

The author of this book is a sociology professor at Washington State University who sees himself in the tradition of Ferdinand Lundberg and G. William Domhoff. Lundberg's 1000-page "The Rich and the Super-Rich" became a number-one bestseller in 1968. Allen's book is more current, and he includes an appendix (pages 307-392) with a half-page on each of 160 family fortunes, making it especially suitable for NameBase. Allen focuses particularly on family money and his prose is straightforward and scholarly, while Lundberg is irreverent and almost wild. Both books include material on self-made and inherited wealth, the influence of money in politics, lifestyles, legal loopholes for tax avoidance, and philanthropy through private foundations.

Domhoff is another scholar in the same tradition, although his books focus less on private wealth for its own sake, and more on the influence of quasi-official elites on government decision-making. The premise of all three scholars is that American egalitarianism and political pluralism is a myth, and that some form of class analysis might not be inappropriate. (In other words, they've assembled their advanced degrees and research skills, complete with thousands of footnotes. And then like someone who has been reporting live from the scene for too many hours, they wearily look up from the library stacks and announce, "This just in: little guy gets screwed!")

Baum, Dan. Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty. New York: William Morrow, 2000. 367 pages.

The Coors name became famous first for its beer, and then for its parochialism. The family company in Golden, Colorado brewed a beer that sold itself without marketing. Coors was the first to use the all-aluminum can (and were also too proud to dump the press tab opener, which tended to cut your finger). Then their competitors, Anheuser-Busch and Miller, began spending upward of a billion dollars a year on ads. In the mid-1970s Coors went public when they could no longer pay their bills out of their cash reserve, and reluctantly hired some marketing people. Their job was not easy: Coors' history of vicious antiunionism led to an AFL-CIO boycott in the late 1970s that left a bad taste among blacks, feminists, unions, gays, and environmentalists that lasted well into the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Joseph Coors became political beginning with the Goldwater campaign in 1964. He bankrolled the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and finally his hero, Ronald Reagan, become president in 1981. Joe's money was behind some of the reactionary ethos of the 1980s -- when it wasn't fat checks for knee-jerk pundits, or for a right-wing TV network, it was $65,000 for Ollie North's contras. Eventually Joe and Holly split up (it turned out that for thirteen years he had been cheating on her), and Adolph Coors Company limped into the 1990s with the next generation in charge of whatever remained.

Beresford, Philip and The Sunday Times of London. The Book of the British Rich: From the Queen to Mick Jagger -- The 400 Wealthiest People in Britain. New York: St.Martin's Press, 1990. 336 pages.

We got a bit more than halfway through this book, for a total of 236 names. After the billionaires, the super rich (100 million pounds and more), and the very rich (50 million or more), the prospect of another 164 names sprinkled with dukes, earls, lords, marquesses, viscounts, and knights, gave us pause. We put the book down and re-read the Declaration of Independence.

This book is an effort to do for Britain what the Forbes 400 list has done for America, which is to promote the art of fawning. It averages half a page of information per name, and most descriptions include photographs. As the jacket blurb notes, "the United Kingdom is still the home of aristocracy: The Queen, of course, is not only the richest person in the land, but the richest woman in the world. More than half of the great estates of the last century are still intact, and over one hundred of the Rich sit, unelected, in the House of Lords.... Also included are car dealers and furniture moguls, hoteliers and brewers -- even a pornography king. The one thing they all have in common is their money." The number of aristocrats totals 103 out of 400, and the number of knights totals 31. But it's not as bad as it looks, because the introduction carefully points out that "some of [the knights] represent the wealth of the New Britain."

Birmingham, Stephen. The Right People: A Portrait of the American Social Establishment. New York: Dell, 1969. 325 pages.

This book is a relic from the 1960s, when sociology undergraduates could read academic essays about class structure within American society without so much as a single reference to Karl Marx. Popular books such as this one picked up on the same theme, usually by tracing the lifestyles of those with old money. This was probably a holdover from the Depression years, when soup lines coexisted with massive mansions. But then in the 1970s some student-movement veterans were seriously interested in tracking the ruling class and studying Marxism. That prompted a backlash, and by the mid-1980s you couldn't even mention "Karl Marx" on campus if you hoped for a career.

The moral of this story is that American writers and academics are allowed to indulge a superficial interest in social class, but only if they don't get serious about power-structure research. Birmingham has written numerous popular and interesting books about American elites. This shows that a safety valve here or there, playing the role of court jester, is something that is tolerably amusing for the upper classes, precisely because it is non-threatening. Occasionally we index these books in NameBase, but we have yet to get very excited over them.

Currier, Chet. The World's Richest People. New York: Arch Cape Press, 1991. Photography by The Associated Press. 156 pages.

"The pages that follow present word-and-picture snapshots of more than fifty of the richest people on earth. This is by no means a comprehensive collection.... Rather, it is presented as a representative cross-section, chosen not only for geographical diversity but also for differences in manner, method and style.

"A primary source of information for this book has been the annual rankings of the world's richest people compiled by the American magazines "Forbes" and "Fortune." Both publications do an admirable job of chronicling the pursuit of wealth as both an ancient undertaking in deadly earnest and an entertaining spectator sport." (page 9)

The book is divided into five sections: Royalty (pages 12-37), Business (pages 40-61), Media (pages 64-81), Family (pages 84-125), and Self-Made (pages 128-156).

Francis, Diane. Controlling Interest: Who Owns Canada? Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1986. 352 pages.

In 1978 the Royal Commission on Corporate Concentration listened mostly to the arguments of big business, and concluded that concentration was necessary in a country as small as Canada. Not everyone was convinced. The author describes this book as "a private-sector, one-woman royal commission. I have crisscrossed the country, scoured the literature, and conducted several hundred interviews to document the new, faster-growing forms of concentration as well as to describe its abuses and potential abuses, and the ramifications for the rest of us in terms of jobs, the nation's wealth, opportunities, and political freedoms."

Canada has become a collection of family dynasties and management fiefdoms. This book profiles its thirty-two wealthiest families. Along with five conglomerates, they controlled one-third of Canada's non-financial assets in 1985, nearly double what they controlled just four years earlier. The concentration of wealth in Canada is much more profound than it is in the U.S., where the largest firms are publicly held.

Francis has been the editor of The Financial Post since 1991, and is a syndicated columnist and broadcaster. A website at www.dianefrancis.com includes descriptions of her other books.

Lewis, Charles and Allison, Bill and the Center for Public Integrity. The Cheating of America: How Tax Avoidance and Evasion by the Super Rich Are Costing the Country Billions -- and What You Can Do About It. New York: William Morrow (HarperCollins), 2001. 302 pages.

In the 1950s, corporate taxes provided more than 27 percent of federal revenues, but by the 1990s this proportion had declined to ten percent. The burden has shifted to individuals. But not all individuals -- if you're rich enough, you might not have to pay any taxes at all. Increasingly, the rich are using off-shore channels to hide their money, at the same time that corporations use partnerships, transfer-pricing and other gimmicks. The IRS doesn't have the resources to challenge this. One IRS lawyer admitted, "Why do you think we go after the little guys? They can't fight back."

The bulk of this book examines a handful of typical tax cheats, with a chapter on each. It was difficult work; many people refused to talk with the authors, and lots of fact-checking was required. This project required $200,000 in Center expenses beyond the publisher's advance. Trips to Belize City, the Bahamas, and other places where tax dodgers hang out, were needed to complete the research. While the end result is fairly good, it's still long on indignation and short on class consciousness. (That figure of $200,000, by the way, is also what we spent to develop NameBase over the last 20 years. Forgive us if we aren't overly impressed.)

Lundberg, Ferdinand. The Rich and the Super-Rich. New York: Bantam Books, 1969. 1009 pages.

Ferdinand Lundberg (1902-1995) began his career as a class-conscious critic of American democracy in the 1930s. This 1968 book was a best-seller, going through a dozen printings in just one year. It's basically a thousand- page, well-researched rant against the few hundred rich people who run the country, and rig the system so that they don't have to pay taxes. Almost all of the important wealth in America is inherited -- the myth that anyone can make it is designed to keep people stupid, and too busy to complain.

Lundberg's level of detail is impressive, and he could have easily continued for another thousand pages. The most valuable chapters are those that describe the American tax system. Philanthropic foundations were set up by and for rich people as thinly-disguised holding companies, to keep wealth and power inside the family, and keep the tax man at bay. Lundberg's account of the 1962 Wright Patman investigation into foundations is quite thorough; moreover, it's the only one we've seen. This book frequently mentions people like the the DuPonts, the Fords, and the Rockefellers; Lundberg also wrote "The Rockefeller Syndrome" in 1976. If he were still with us, and able to watch the creeping globalization being forced on us by wealthy elites, Lundberg would be one of the few American commentators qualified to say, "I told you so."

Sheehy, Sandy. Texas Big Rich. New York: St.Martin's Press, 1992. 399 pages.

This delightful book gives revealing profiles of a cross-section of extremely rich Texans and their families (pages in parentheses):
 Clayton W. Williams, Jr. (21-37)    Fort Worth high society  (206-222)
 Houston high society     (38-56)    T. Cullen Davis          (223-239)
 Joanne Johnson King                 Bass brothers            (240-260)
 and Herring Davis        (57-67)    "Cadillac Jack" Grimm    (261-269)
 Josephine Abercrombie    (68-75)    Electra Waggoner Biggs   (270-275)
 Walter Mischer           (76-83)    Stanley Marsh 3          (276-290)
 big-ranch cowboys       (84-108)    T. Boone Pickens         (291-303)
 John Connally          (109-122)    Sybil Harrington         (304-313)
 Dallas high society    (123-144)    San Antonio high society (314-332)
 H.R. "Bum" Bright      (145-153)    Galveston high society   (333-341)
 Hunt brothers          (154-172)    George Mitchell          (342-353)
 Wynne dynasty          (173-183)    high-tech capitalists    (354-370)
 May Kay Ash            (184-196)    H. Ross Perot            (371-389)
 Jarrell McCracken      (197-205)

This is the problem with Texas: Everyone else who reads these gently- sarcastic profiles is snickering most of the way through the book, while most Texans reading it will feel flattered.

NameBase book reviews               CloudFlare Watch