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When George W. Bush assembled his first Cabinet in 2001, news reports dubbed them a team of millionaires, and government watchdogs questioned whether they were out of touch with most Americans’ problems. Combined, that group had an inflation-adjusted net worth of about $250 million — which is roughly one-tenth the wealth of Donald Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary alone.
Trump is putting together what will be the wealthiest administration in modern American history. His announced nominees for top positions include several multimillionaires, an heir to a family mega-fortune and two Forbes-certified billionaires, one of whose family is worth as much as industrial tycoon Andrew Mellon was when he served as treasury secretary nearly a century ago. Rumored candidates for other positions suggest Trump could add more ultra-rich appointees soon.
Many of the Trump appointees were born wealthy, attended elite schools and went on to amass even larger fortunes as adults. As a group, they have much more experience funding political candidates than they do running government agencies.
Their collective wealth in many ways defies Trump’s populist campaign promises. Their business ties, particularly to Wall Street, have drawn rebukes from Democrats. But the group also amplifies Trump’s own campaign pitch: that Washington outsiders who know how to navigate and exploit a “rigged” system are best able to fix that system for the working class.
“It fits into Trump’s message that he’s trying to do business in an unusual way, by bringing in these outsiders,” said Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor in presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. But Trump and his team, she added, won’t be able to draw on the same sort of life struggles that President Obama did, in crafting policy to lift poor and middle-class Americans.
“They’re just not going to have any access to that” life experience, she said. “I guess it will be a test — does empathy actually matter If you’re able to echo back what people are telling you, is that enough”
Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary is industrialist Wilbur Ross, who has amassed a fortune of $2.5 billion through decades at the helm of Rothschild’s bankruptcy practice and his own investment firm, according to Forbes.
Ross’ would-be deputy at the Commerce Department, Todd Ricketts, is the son of a billionaire and the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. Steven Mnuchin, who Trump named to head the Treasury Department, is a former Goldman Sachs executive, hedge fund executive and Hollywood financier.
Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who was named as Trump’s education secretary, is the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway. Her family has a net worth of $5.1 billion, according to Forbes. Elaine Chao, the choice for transportation secretary, is the daughter of a shipping magnate.
It is a group that has long spent big to influence politics. Mnuchin, Ross and DeVos each made hundreds of thousands of dollars of political contributions within the last two years, according to OpenSecrets.org. In Ross’ Manhattan office, next to a window overlooking Central Park, there is a table filled with pictures of Ross with candidates to whom he has contributed, including John A. Boehner, Michael Bloomberg and Bill Clinton.
On Wednesday, Democrats seized on Ross’s and Mnuchin’s Wall Street ties to accuse Trump of undermining his populist pitch.
“I’m not shocked by this. It’s a billionaire president being surrounded by a billionaire and millionaire cabinet, with a billionaire agenda . . . to hurt the middle class,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “The appointments suggest that he’s going to break his campaign promises.”
In their first interviews Wednesday after being unveiled as cabinet nominees, Mnuchin and Ross pitched their business experience as beneficial to the goals of boosting workers.
“I think one of the good things about both Wilbur and I, we have actually been bankers,” Mnuchin told CNBC, adding, “We’ve been in the business of regional banking, and we understand what it means to make loans.”
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to lift up Americans who have seen their economic prospects dim with the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs. And indeed, voters by and large ignored Trump’s own opulence, which never became the baggage that it did for the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Still, the question now is whether public officials who come from such privileged backgrounds will favor policies that benefit the rich.
“This isn’t a criticism or a conspiracy . . . but it’s important to recognize that everyone’s perspective and policy and government is shaped by the kind of life you’ve lived,” said Nicholas Carnes, a political scientist at Duke University. “The research really says that when you put a bunch of millionaires in charge, you can expect public policy that helps millionaires at the expense of everybody else.”
Future appointments could further increase the wealth of Trump’s cabinet. Harold Hamm — a self-made oil industry executive who ranks 30th on the Forbes 400, a list of the wealthiest Americans, with a net worth of $16.7 billion, — is on Trump’s shortlist for secretary of energy. Andrew Puzder, a restaurant industry executive, has been floated for labor secretary.
Trump is hardly the first president to dole out cabinet positions to wealthy Americans. The Commerce and Treasury departments in particular tend to be headed by politically connected donors or Wall Street executives, said Matt Grossman, a political scientist at Michigan State University.
“Of course, it’s not uncommon for the wealthy to be overrepresented in political positions of all kinds, and in appointment processes you tend to get people who are already well-connected to the incoming president,” he said.
Penny Pritzker, the current commerce secretary, comes from one of America’s wealthiest families, and her net worth is estimated at $2.5 billion. Former treasury secretaries Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Paul H. O’Neill both had personal wealth in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.
The tradition goes back in history. Andrew Mellon, one of the wealthiest Americans in the early 20th century, served as treasury secretary under three administrations. Eisenhower’s cabinet garnered the nickname “nine millionaires and a plumber.”
Mellon was first appointed by President Warren G. Harding, and he helped steer the U.S. economy through the “Roaring Twenties” — and into the Great Depression.
He is widely credited with pioneering an early version of the tax policies that form part of Trump’s economic agenda, which proved successful in the 1920s. It was the notion that the government could speed up the economy — and increase federal revenue — by cutting taxes on the rich.
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Who had more money, John D. Rockefeller or Genghis Khan It’s a simple question with a very difficult answer.
This ranking of the richest people of all time is based on hours of interviews with academic economists and historians. To read more about how the order was determined despite the difficulty of comparing wealth across a wide range of time periods and economic systems, read this.
But for now, suffice to say that the following is a rigorous but highly debatable attempt to list the wealthiest historical figures in order of their economic influence.
10. Mansa Musa
Wealth: Richer than anyone could describe
Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, is often referred to as the wealthiest person in history. According to Ferrum College history professor Richard Smith, Musa’s west African kingdom was likely the largest producer of gold in the world—at a time which gold was in especially high demand.
Just how rich was Musa There’s really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth. Records are scarce, if non-existent, and contemporary sources describe the king’s riches in terms that are impossible for the time.
Some tales of his famous pilgrimage to Mecca—during which Musa’s spending was so lavish that it caused a currency crisis in Egypt—mention dozens of camels each carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. (Smith says one year of Malian gold production probably generated about a ton.) Others said Musa’s army consisted of 200,000 men, including 40,000 archers—troop numbers even modern superpowers would have a difficult time bringing to the field.
But to get caught up in the king’s exact wealth is to miss the point. As Rudolph Ware, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan, explains, Musa’s riches were so immense that people struggled to describe them.
“This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen, that’s the point,” says Ware. “They’re trying to find words to explain that. There are pictures of him holding a scepter of gold on a throne of gold holding a cup of gold with a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate.”
When no one can even comprehend your wealth, that means you’re pretty darned rich.
9. Augustus Caesar
Lived: 63 BC–14 AD
Wealth: $4.6 trillion
Not only was Augustus Caesar in charge of an empire that accounted for 25% to 30% of the world’s economic output, but according to Stanford history professor Ian Morris, Augustus at one point held personal wealth equivalent to one-fifth of his empire’s economy. That fortune would be the equivalent of about $4.6 trillion in 2014. “For a while,” Morris adds, Augustus “personally owned all of Egypt.” That’s hard to top.
8. Emperor Shenzong
Wealth: Ruled empire with 25% to 30% of global GDP
China’s Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) was one of the most economically powerful empires of all time. According to Prof. Ronald A. Edwards, a Chinese economic historian of the Song Dynasty at Tamkang University, the nation accounted for between 25% and 30% of the world’s economic output during its peak.
The empire’s wealth came from both its technological innovations and extreme skill at tax collection, which Edwards says was hundreds of years ahead of European governments. The professor also noted the Song Dynasty’s government was highly centralized, meaning the emperor held enormous control over the economy.
7. Akbar I
Wealth: Ruled empire with 25% of global GDP
The greatest emperor of India’s Mughal dynasty, Akbar controlled an empire that accounted for about one-fourth of global economic output. Fortune’s Chris Matthews cites the late economic historian Angus Maddison, who speculates India’s GDP per capita under Akbar was comparable to Elizabethan England, but with “a ruling class whose extravagant lifestyle surpassed that of the European society.”
That assertion that India’s elite class was wealthier than their counterparts to the west is backed up by data from economist Branko Milanovic, whose research shows the Mughal Dynasty was one of the most effective empires of all time at extracting wealth from the population.
6. Joseph Stalin
Wealth: Complete control of a nation with 9.6% of global GDP
Stalin is an uncommon figure in modern economic history: a dictator with absolute power who also controlled one of the largest economies in the world. While it is virtually impossible to separate Stalin’s wealth from the wealth of the Soviet Union, his unique combination of economic might and complete control of the USSR lead multiple economists to nominate him as one of the richest people of all time.
You can easily see their logic. Data from the OECD shows that in 1950, three years before Stalin’s death, the USSR made up roughly 9.5% of global economic output. As of 2014, that level of production would be equivalent to nearly $7.5 trillion dollars.
While that money didn’t belong directly to Stalin, he had the ability to leverage Soviet economic might for any reason he chose.
“He had enormous power, and through his power he could have anything he wanted,” says George O. Liber, a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “He controlled 1/6th of the land surface of the planet without any checks or balances.”
Does that make Stalin rich in the traditional sense Liber isn’t so sure. “Was he among the wealthiest men” the professor wonders. “I suppose if you want to stretch the definition of wealth, but it was not his wealth. He controlled the wealth of the country.”
Even so, it’s hard not to include Stalin on a list of the most economically powerful people in history. His wealth might be uncertain, but there’s no question the premier’s personal economic influence is unrivaled in recent history.
5. Andrew Carnegie
Country: United States
Wealth: $372 billion
Rockefeller gets all the press, but Andrew Carnegie may be the richest American of all time. The Scottish immigrant sold his company, U.S. Steel, to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901. That sum equates to about slightly over 2.1% of U.S. GDP at the time, giving Carnegie economic power equivalent to $372 billion in 2014.
4. John D. Rockefeller
Country: United States
Wealth: $341 billion
Rockefeller began investing in the petroleum industry in 1863 and by 1880 his Standard Oil company controlled 90% of American oil production.
According to his New York Times obituary, Rockefeller was valued at about $1.5 billion based on a 1918 federal income tax return and estimates of his overall fortune—the equivalent of almost 2% of U.S. economic output that year according to data compiled by MeasuringWorth (the U.S. did not keep official records on national income until 1932).
The same economic share in 2014 would be equivalent to $341 billion.
3. Alan Rufus (a.k.a. Alan the Red)
Wealth: $194 billion
The nephew of William the Conqueror, Rufus joined his uncle in the Norman conquest. He died with £11,000, according to Philip Beresford and Bill Rubinstein, authors of The Richest of the Rich, which they say amounted to 7% of England’s GDP at the time. That would amount to $194 billion in 2014 dollars.
2. Bill Gates
Country: United States
Wealth: $78.9 billion
As the richest living person, Bill Gates’ wealth is refreshingly easy to determine. As of this year, Forbes estimates the Microsoft founder’s net worth at $78.9 billion. That’s about $8 billion more than Zara co-founder Amancio Ortega, the second-richest person in the world.
1. Genghis Khan
Country: Mongolian Empire
Wealth: Lots of land, not much else
Genghis Khan is undoubtedly one of the most successful military leaders of all time. As leader of the Mongol Empire, which at its height stretched from China to Europe, he controlled the largest contiguous empire in history. However, despite his great power, scholars say Genghis never hoarded his wealth. On the contrary, the Khan’s generosity was key to his influence.
“One of the basis of his success is sharing the spoils with his soldiers and other commanders,” says Morris Rossabi, a distinguished professor of history at CUNY’s Queens College.
Jack Weatherford, author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, explains that Mongol soldiers, unlike many pre-modern armies, were banned from taking personal loot. After an area was conquered, every item taken was inventoried by official clerks and then later distributed amongst the military and their families.
Genghis still received a share of the spoils, but that hardly made him rich. “He built no palace for himself or family, no temple, no tomb, and not even a house,” says Weatherford. “He was born in a wool ger [yurt] and he died in a wool ger. At death he was wrapped in felt, like any common person, and then buried Lightroom 3.6”
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The wealthiest 1 percent of American households own 40 percent of the country's wealth, according to a new paper by economist Edward N. Wolff. That share is higher than it has been at any point since at least 1962, according to Wolff's data, which comes from the federal Survey of Consumer Finances.
From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the 1 percent shot up by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, fell over the same period. Today, the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. That gap, between the ultrawealthy and everyone else, has only become wider in the past several decades.
Let's talk a bit about that wealth gap. Wealth, often described as net worth, describes how much stuff you actually have: It's the value of your assets minus the value of your debts. If you have a $250,000 house but you still owe $200,000 to the bank on it, and you have no other debts or financial assets, that means your net worth is $50,000.
In the United States, the distribution of that wealth is even more skewed toward the top than the distribution of income. For the sake of illustration, let's say that America is a country of 100 people, and all of the wealth in the country — the homes and land and financial assets — is represented by 100 slices of pie.
That works out to an average of one slice of pie per person, which is exactly what everyone would get if we lived in a society where wealth was equally distributed.
But that's not the society we live in, and indeed that's not the society that most of us want to live in either. People generally agree that if you work harder you're entitled to more of the pie, and that if you don't work at all, well, barring certain circumstances, no pie for you.
In 2010, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely surveyed more than 5,500 people to find out how they thought wealth should be distributed in this country: How much of the pie should go to the top 20 percent of Americans, and to the next 20 percent, and so on, all the way down to the bottom of the distribution
On average, respondents said that in an ideal world the top 20 percent of Americans would get nearly one-third of the pie, the second and middle quintiles would get about 20 percent each, and the bottom two quintiles would get 13 and 11 slices, respectively.
In an ideal world, in other words, the most productive quintile of society would amass roughly three times the wealth of the least productive.
Now, let's take a look at how the pie is actually distributed. These figures come from Wolff's working paper, and he expands on them further in his new book, "A Century of Wealth in America."
The top 20 percent of households actually own a whopping 90 percent of the stuff in America — 90 slices of pie! That's exactly 4½ slices per person, nearly triple their “ideal” share according to Norton and Ariely's survey respondents. Their average net worth $3 million.
That leaves just 10 percent of the pie for the remaining 80 percent of the populace. The next 20 percent of households (average net worth: $273,600) help themselves to eight slices, while the middle 20 percent ($81,700 net worth, on average) split a measly two slices.
Don't go feeling too sorry for that middle quintile, though — at least they get some pie. The fourth quintile of households gets literally nothing: no pie. But they're still doing better than the bottom 20 percent of households, who are actually in a state of pie debt: Their net worth is underwater, meaning they owe more than they have. Combined, the average net worth of the bottom 40 percent of households is -$8,900.
These figures, staggering as they are, mask a lot of the variation in the top 20 percent. Let's run those numbers again, breaking out some of the richest households separately.
There's the top 1 percent, gobbling up an astonishing 40 slices of American pie. The next 4 percent split 27 slices between them, while the next 5 percent take another 12 slices (a little over two slices per person). The bottom 10 percent of the top 20 percent get, on average, one slice of pie each. But don't feel too bad for them: Their net worth is, on average, about $740,800.
Among rich nations, the United States stands out for the extent of its wealth inequality. The top 1 percent in the U.S. own a much larger share of the country's wealth than the 1 percent elsewhere. The American 1 percent gobble up twice as much pie (40 percent) as the 1 percent in France, the U.K., or Canada, and more than three times as much as the 1 percent in Finland.
This kind of extreme inequality is bad for the economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents a number of the world's richest countries including the United States, estimates that inequality has knocked nearly five percentage points off the economic growth in those countries between 2000 and 2015.
In high-inequality countries, people from poor households typically have less access to quality education. This leads to “large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility,” which directly harms economic growth, according to the OECD.
If you were designing a tax plan to reduce the extreme inequality in the United States, you'd probably try to find ways to redistribute some of the wealth from the richest households to the poorest ones. But the Senate GOP tax plan does precisely the opposite of that, according to the CBO: In the short term the richest households get the biggest tax cuts, while longer term the taxes of the poorest households actually increase.
Estate tax Cut. Income tax rate for millionaires Cut (at least in the Senate bill). Corporate tax rate Biggest rate cut ever.
In the long term that probably means more of the pie for the super-rich, and less of it for everyone else avira free antivirus
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It can be an odd thing having Nancy Pelosi as your next-door neighbor.
Especially when the House minority leader and her husband open up their bucolic Northern California estate and vineyard on the banks of the Napa River to the likes of Google's Eric Schmidt, wealthy environmental activist Tom Steyer and Gov. Jerry Brown.
"When all the black SUVs are circling around the property — like planes gathering over O'Hare Airport — that is when you know they are here," Susanna Kelham, who owns a winery next to the Pelosi property in St. Helena, told the Los Angeles Times.
That was the scene last year when Pelosi hosted a dinner at the couple's sprawling estate and vineyard about 65 miles north of Pelosi's San Francisco district to close out a two-day conference in the wine country for political heavyweights.
The Democrat has a minimum net worth of $29.3 million, according to an analysis of her financial disclosure forms compiled by Roll Call. The Los Angeles Times is using the data and for the first time is listing every asset and liability disclosed by the 55 members of the state's congressional delegation.
Financial disclosure rules allow lawmakers to report broad ranges for the value of both their assets and liabilities starting at $1 to $1,000 and ending with any value greater than $50 million. Precise figures are not required. Roll Call calculated minimum net worth by subtracting the minimum value of liabilities from the minimum value of assets disclosed.
The Pelosi estate on Zinfandel Lane, for example, is valued between $5,000,001 and $25 million, according to the records the congresswoman filed with the House clerk's office for calendar year 2014. A description of the property posted on its architect's website says it was inspired by Palladian villas and boasts a guesthouse and a "Z" shaped pool.
The estate is not just for show. The couple also collects between $5,001 and $15,000 in income from the sale of grapes grown at the vineyard. A spokesman for Pelosi did not say who the grapes were sold to or for what purpose.
"The disclosure says grape sales," said spokesman Drew Hammill. "That's the only information available."
An official with the California Department of Food and Agriculture was similarly coy, writing in an email that information about grape sales is "considered proprietary and is protected by statute."
But the Pelosis have yet to build a full-fledged winery on the property. "They did enough to activate the permit," he said. "The ball is in their court to pursue the rest of the construction project."
For all of Pelosi's power and national stature, she and her husband have taken their concerns hyperlocal.
The couple was at the center of a neighborhood dispute last year when a winery was applying for permits to open next to their property.
Citing traffic concerns and opposition to the size of the proposed winery, Paul Pelosi managed to secure an appeal hearing before the county planning board.
He eventually appeared before the planning commission one Tuesday morning last October in a white dress shirt and blazer to announce that he had dropped his opposition — thanks to the new winery agreeing to cut back on the number of events allowed on the property.
Before he left the podium, he took advantage of time with his audience to gripe about other local issues.
"One thing I would like to say while here, though," he said, according to video of the hearing, "all of us are concerned about the speed limit on Zinfandel Lane."
Pelosi earns between $15,001 and $50,000 in rent from a different Napa Valley property that she and her husband own jointly. Her disclosure form listed its worth as between $500,001 and $1 million.
She and her husband also bring in as much as $50,000 in rent from a townhome near the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Norden valued between $1,000,001 and $5 million.
Most of Pelosi's reported assets were listed as belonging to her husband, who has investments in Apple, Walt Disney Co. and Facebook. He has a stake in a few San Francisco office buildings as well as other commercial real estate around California, including one building that houses a Walgreens.
Paul Pelosi also has $10 million invested in the now defunct United Football League, because he owned the Sacramento Mountain Lions team.
The congresswoman's wealth has long been a source for attacks by her conservative critics as well those on the left. Animal rights activists once protested outside a Marin County restaurant in which she invests because veal was on the menu.
With a minimum $42.8 million in assets and a minimum $13.5 million in liabilities, Pelosi ranks as the 15th-wealthiest member of Congress. And the disclosure forms tell a far different story for one of her colleagues, Majority Leader Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.
Just as the ranges can create fuzzy overall figures, lawmakers are not required to disclose property owned unless it is earning income. However, they must report all mortgages for any property.
They also do not need to list their $174,000 annual salaries, putting each of them above the average Californian.
McCarthy listed a minimum of $147,000 in assets, nearly all of it in a series of mutual funds. He lists a liability of a mortgage owed to Kern Schools Federal Credit Union for a minimum value of $100,001. The mortgage, for his personal residence in California, could be as high as $250,000 due to the allowed ranges.
McCarthy was seen as the favorite to succeed Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as speaker but abruptly dropped out of the running.
McCarthy reported earning no money in royalties in 2014 from a book contract with Simon and Schuster Inc., which published the book "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders," which he co-wrote with former Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan, the newly elected speaker Adobe Photoshop CS6 Extended
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