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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Richest 400 Families -- What Does One Do with $270 million

In the corrections section of the September 29, 2011 issue of the NYRB, I found these figures:  The average adjusted gross income for the 400 wealthiest families in the United States in 2008 was $270,510,000.  On average, they paid an income tax of $48,982,173 or 18.1%.  Presumably they also paid state and local taxes, and if any of them were working, they paid into Social Security.

I was sort of wondering how they used the money that was left after taxes.  Presumably a big chunk of it went to charity, but I could wonder what percent of those charitable contributions went to institutions that make life “beautiful” for rich people like opera and ballet companies, symphony orchestras, and art museums, and what percent went to universities to ensure their progeny could obtain legacy admission.  Needless to say, these are all good causes from which the rest of us benefit.  You could even make a case that a legacy admission benefits society as a whole if the price is high enough.  I assume that most of the rest goes for things like medical research, education and programs that help people who haven’t been able to make it into the 400.

So what do they do with what’s left?  There are usually political contributions.  Presumably these are mostly aimed at ensuring they get at least $270 million next year.  There are limits to how much one can consume, even if buying Picasso’s, so presumably a substantial amount remains after charitable and political contributions and whatever level of consumption they choose, and this left over amount is invested.  Do these investments create jobs and, if so, where and for whom?  As Glen Beck says, I’m just asking.

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