Alexander Green: With unemployment high and the economy still sputtering, economic insecurity in the U.S. is rampant right now. The 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the longest-running survey of its kind, reveals that the percentage of workers who feel confident they have enough for a comfortable retirement is near record lows.
At the other end of the scale, this week Forbes released its annual list of the top 400 richest Americans. And the mood here is decidedly upbeat. Many are several billion dollars richer.
Most of the names near the top are the same as in years past – and so are the principles that got them there. So there is much that we can learn here if we’re willing to listen.
Let’s start with how they got there. Many Americans feel that great wealth is a matter not of talent but of luck, the breaks. And, in truth, most of the ultra-rich individuals I’ve known have conceded that there was an element of chance or fortune in their success.
(Whatever the hard work that led to their attainments, at the very least they were generally lucky enough to be born in this country and to parents or guardians who were positive role models.)
But if luck were all there was to it, the people at the top wouldn’t be any smarter than the average American. Yet that is decidedly not the case.
For example, the country’s three richest men are Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($72 billion), Berkshire Hathaway leader Warren Buffett ($58.5 billion) and Oracle founder Larry Ellison ($41 billion). These are all brilliant, educated men, though not necessarily in the traditional sense.
Larry Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois after his second year. Gates similarly dropped out of Harvard to take advantage of an opportunity in software he was convinced would be gone by the time he graduated. Buffett entered the University of Pennsylvania as a freshman but then transferred to the