There has been much talk recently about the curse of white privilege, as manifested in, for example, the greater wealth of whites than blacks in the United States.
For example, in March 2019, Forbes reported that there were 4 black billionaires in the U.S.: American investor Robert F. Smith with $5 billion [#131 on the October 2019 Forbes 400], American businessman David Steward with $3.5 billion [#239], American media mogul Oprah Winfrey with a net worth of $2.7 billion [#319], … American sports executive Michael Jordan with $2.1 billion [not quite making the Forbes 400]. So, only 0.75% of the Forbes 400 are black.
There has, in contrast, been only a tiny amount of talk about Jewish privilege, as manifested in, for example, the greater wealth of Jews than white gentiles in the United States.
Yet, the two concepts—white privilege and Jewish privilege—would seem to be rather analogous: For example, if you are enraged about white privilege it would be logical to also be concerned about Jewish privilege. In contrast, if you find white privilege to be overblown, then Jewish privilege shouldn’t bother you much either.
Conversely, if you would prefer people not speak about the idea of Jewish privilege, it might make sense not to promote the idea of white privilege quite so assiduously.
We can take a crack at quantifying this by looking at the Forbes 400, a popular ranking of the richest people in America. Here’s the first 100 names listed on the last annual report from October 2019, along with my understanding of each billionaire’s ethnicity, based on Wikipedia, news reports, interviews and the like. Everybody with a “1” under “Jewish?” appears to be at least half Jewish by nature and nurture. The “%” column sums up the percentage of Jewish ethnicity weighting nature and nurture equally. (I’ll explain this below under my note for Larry Ellison of Oracle.)
|2019 Forbes 100 Richest in US|
|1||Jeff Bezos||$114 B||55||Amazon|
|2||Bill Gates||$106 B||64||Microsoft|
|3||Warren Buffett||$80.8 B||89||Berkshire Hathaway|
|4||Mark Zuckerberg||$69.6 B||35||1||100%|
|5||Larry Ellison||$65 B||75||1||75%||software|
|6||Larry Page||$55.5 B||46||1||50%|
|7||Sergey Brin||$53.5 B||46||1||100%|
|8||Michael Bloomberg||$53.4 B||77||1||100%||Bloomberg LP|
|9||Steve Ballmer||$51.7 B||63||1||50%||Microsoft|
|10||Jim Walton||$51.6 B||71||Walmart|
|11||Alice Walton||$51.4 B||70||Walmart|
|12||Rob Walton||$51.3 B||75||Walmart|
|13||Charles Koch||$41 B||83||Koch Industries|
|13||Julia Koch & family||$41 B||57||Koch Industries|
|15||MacKenzie Bezos||$36.1 B||49||Amazon.com|
|16||Phil Knight & family||$35.9 B||81||Nike|
|17||Sheldon Adelson||$34.5 B||86||1||100%||casinos|
|18||Michael Dell||$32.3 B||54||1||100%||Dell computers|
|19||Jacqueline Mars||$29.7 B||80||candy, pet food|
|19||John Mars||$29.7 B||84||candy, pet food|
|21||Jim Simons||$21.6 B||81||1||100%||hedge funds|
|22||Laurene Powell Jobs & family||$21.3 B||55||Apple, Disney|
|23||Elon Musk||$19.9 B||48||Tesla Motors, SpaceX|
|24||Rupert Murdoch & family||$19.1 B||88||newspapers, TV network|
|25||Leonard Lauder||$18.8 B||82||1||100%||Estee Lauder|
|26||Ray Dalio||$18.7 B||70||hedge funds|
|27||Len Blavatnik||$18.3 B||62||1||100%||diversified|
|28||Lukas Walton||$18.1 B||33||Walmart|
|29||Stephen Schwarzman||$17.7 B||72||1||100%||investments|
|30||Carl Icahn||$17.6 B||83||1||100%||investments|
|31||Thomas Peterffy||$17.5 B||75||discount brokerage|
|32||Donald Bren||$17 B||87||1||50%||real estate|
|33||Eric Schmidt||$14.2 B||64|
|34||Abigail Johnson||$14 B||57||money management|
|35||Steve Cohen||$13.6 B||63||1||100%||hedge funds|
|36||Pierre Omidyar||$13.1 B||52||eBay, PayPal|
|37||Donald Newhouse||$12.8 B||90||1||100%||media|
|38||Ken Griffin||$12.7 B||51||hedge funds|
|39||David Tepper||$12 B||62||1||100%||hedge funds|
|40||Dustin Moskovitz||$11.6 B||35||1||100%|
|41||Philip Anschutz||$11.5 B||79||investments|
|41||Thomas Frist, Jr. & family||$11.5 B||81||hospitals|
|41||John Menard, Jr.||$11.5 B||79||home improvement stores|
|44||Charles Ergen||$10.8 B||66||satellite TV|
|45||David Duffield||$10.7 B||79||business software|
|46||Gordon Moore||$10.3 B||90||Intel|
|47||Jan Koum||$10.1 B||43||1||100%|
|48||Andrew Beal||$9.8 B||66||banks, real estate|
|49||Carl Cook||$9.7 B||57||medical devices|
|49||Stanley Kroenke||$9.7 B||72||sports, real estate|
|51||Jim Kennedy||$9.6 B||71||media, automotive|
|51||Blair Parry-Okeden||$9.6 B||69||media, automotive|
|53||Hank & Doug Meijer||$9.5 B||supermarkets|
|54||Stewart and Lynda Resnick||$9 B||1||100%||agriculture, water|
|55||Harold Hamm & family||$8.8 B||73||oil & gas|
|56||Jerry Jones||$8.6 B||77||Dallas Cowboys|
|56||George Soros||$8.6 B||89||1||100%||hedge funds|
|58||Christy Walton||$8.5 B||70||Walmart|
|59||Micky Arison||$8.1 B||70||1||100%||Carnival Cruises|
|60||David Geffen||$7.9 B||76||1||100%||movies, record labels|
|61||Shahid Khan||$7.8 B||69||auto parts|
|61||Tom & Judy Love||$7.8 B||82||retail & gas stations|
|63||Leon Black||$7.7 B||68||1||100%||private equity|
|63||Ronald Perelman||$7.7 B||76||1||100%||leveraged buyouts|
|63||Charles Schwab||$7.7 B||82||discount brokerage|
|66||Stephen Ross||$7.6 B||79||1||100%||real estate|
|67||John Doerr||$7.5 B||68||venture capital|
|67||Richard Kinder||$7.5 B||75||pipelines|
|67||Ann Walton Kroenke||$7.5 B||70||Walmart|
|70||David Green & family||$7.4 B||77||retail|
|70||Marijke Mars||$7.4 B||55||candy, pet food|
|70||Pamela Mars||$7.4 B||59||candy, pet food|
|70||Valerie Mars||$7.4 B||60||candy, pet food|
|70||Victoria Mars||$7.4 B||62||candy, pet food|
|75||John Malone||$7.3 B||78||cable television|
|75||David Shaw||$7.3 B||68||1||100%||hedge funds|
|77||James Goodnight||$7.2 B||76||software|
|77||Herbert Kohler, Jr. & family||$7.2 B||80||plumbing fixtures|
|79||Diane Hendricks||$7 B||72||roofing|
|79||Edward Johnson, III.||$7 B||89||money management|
|79||George Kaiser||$7 B||77||1||100%||oil & gas, banking|
|82||Robert Kraft||$6.9 B||78||1||100%||New England Patriots|
|82||Steven Rales||$6.9 B||68||1||100%||manufacturing|
|84||Eli Broad||$6.8 B||86||1||100%||investments|
|85||Jim Davis & family||$6.7 B||76||New Balance|
|85||Nancy Walton Laurie||$6.7 B||68||Walmart|
|85||J. Christopher Reyes||$6.7 B||65||food distribution|
|85||Jude Reyes||$6.7 B||64||food distribution|
|85||John A. Sobrato & family||$6.7 B||80||real estate|
|85||Patrick Soon-Shiong||$6.7 B||67||pharmaceuticals|
|91||Israel Englander||$6.6 B||71||1||100%||hedge funds|
|91||Reinhold Schmieding||$6.6 B||64||medical devices|
|93||Marc Benioff||$6.5 B||55||1||100%||business software|
|93||Daniel Gilbert||$6.5 B||57||1||100%||Quicken Loans|
|95||James Chambers||$6.4 B||62||media, automotive|
|95||Bernard Marcus||$6.4 B||90||1||100%||Home Depot|
|95||Robert Pera||$6.4 B||41||wireless networking gear|
|95||Katharine Rayner||$6.4 B||74||media, automotive|
|95||Margaretta Taylor||$6.4 B||77||media, automotive|
|100||Dannine Avara||$6.3 B||55||pipelines|
A few notes:
These are not attempts to discern the personal religious views of these billionaires. Nor do they reflect the logic of Rabbinical Judaism under which the maternal line is decisive in who is Jewish or not.
Instead, I’m simply following the pattern of Wikipedia that typically states something like “[Mark] Zuckerberg was raised in a Reform Jewish household” or, for Michael Bloomberg, “His family is Jewish.”
Most of the time, this isn’t all that complicated.
Here are the 4 of the 35 in the top 100 who appear to be somewhat complicated in their Jewish ethnicity.
Larry Page of Google is the son of a Jewish mother. His father, Carl Victor Page, a computer science professor at Michigan State died in his late 50s from complications from the polio he contracted as a child. My impression is that Professor Page was of Old American stock, but I haven’t seen confirmation one way or another.
Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, is the biological son of an Italian-American military pilot and a Jewish mother. As an infant, he was adopted by his mother’s Jewish aunt and uncle. So, I think of the arithmetic of this as Ellison being half Jewish by nature and all Jewish by nurture. Because I assume that, generally speaking, nature and nurture about equally important, I put Ellison down as 75% Jewish. Admittedly, I’ve never heard of anybody else using this kind of arithmetic, but it strikes me as reasonable. Many people are adamant about accounting solely based on either nature or nurture. I can’t decide between their logic, so I just compromise.
Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (it’s a long story), has a Swiss gentile immigrant father and a Jewish-American mother.
Donald Bren, Orange County land baron, appears to have a Jewish father and a gentile mother: “His father Milton was a naval officer, talent agent, and successful movie producer while his mother Marion was a prominent civic leader. His mother was of partial Irish descent while his father was of Jewish descent.”
It’s perhaps interesting that the partial names are concentrated near the top of the list. That could be a fluke, or it could be that there is more information published about the super-billionaires like Ellison. Perhaps somebody lower down on the list was also adopted but is just listed in Wikipedia as “raised in a Jewish family.”
Real estate developer and sports team owner Stan Kroenke is often described as Jewish, but he is described in Wikipedia as “He is of German descent and was raised Lutheran,” which seems plausible: he grew up in rural Missouri. Other than being good at making money, his life seems pretty thoroughly gentile: he owns huge ranches, he’s into hunting, and he married a Walmart heiress.
Note that I got tired of counting after 100 billionaires. Places 100 through 106 are all tied with $6.3 billion, but I only counted the first of the seven with $6.3 billion.
So, 35 of the first 100 on the 2019 Forbes list are, more or less, Jewish. If you sum up my weights, the first 100 make up 33.25% of the Forbes 100, or just about exactly 1/3. This appears to be about the same fraction as when I previously looked into the question in 2013.
Jewish organizations usually report that Jews make up 2.2% of the U.S. population, so being about 1/3rd of the Forbes 100 is impressive.