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Sources of Wealth for the Wealthiest Americans

Forbes Magazine publishes an annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans (the “Forbes 400”).  For each member of the Forbes 400, a very short description of his/her primary source of wealth is also published.  Here are the sources of wealth from which the most wealth has been derived by members of the first annual to most recent (1982-2008) Forbes 400s, pictured as a data cloud.  The size of each source is proportional to the real wealth associated with it; only sources with an associated wealth of at least 5 billion (inflation-adjusted) dollars are shown.

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Sources of Wealth for the Wealthiest Americans

Nominal wealths were deflated by Forbes Magazine‘s Cost of Living Extremely Well Index.  If a member of the Forbes 400 had multiple sources of wealth, his/her wealth was evenly divided between the sources.  While it may be appropriate to combine some sources of wealth (e.g., “Candy [Mars Inc.]” and “Mars Inc.”), Forbes Magazine‘s descriptions of the primary sources of wealth were, generally, maintained verbatim and only corrected for inconsistencies across years.  The colors and locations of the sources are random.  Credit is due to Wordle.Net and Panayiotis T. Manolakos’s “Capital, Volume One.”


Kevin W. Capehart is a Ph.D. student in economics at American University (Washington D.C.).




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