Americans can learn much from Israel. It’s an increasingly prosperous nation that grapples manfully with its problems. For example, when the Israelis put up a fence along the border to keep out illegal aliens (or “illegal infiltrators,” as the Israeli government calls them), they put up afence.
I especially admire how Israelis enjoy what might be called “effective freedom of speech.” While I treasure the legal protections provided by the First Amendment, the increasing tendency of Americans to pass up moneymaking opportunities that might be deemed “controversial” makes America duller and dumber.
Why? Don’t Israelis know that Gibson is controversial?
The Israeli attitude, however, is: Why not? If some people in Tel Aviv will pay good shekels to see Gibson’sGet the Gringo, then somebody else in Tel Aviv will charge them to show it.
Similarly, in Israel, you can write openly about one of the more interesting and important subjects of our era: Jewish wealth. For instance, the Israeli-American centrist think tankJewish People Policy Institutereported in2010: “World Jewry today is at a historical zenith of absolute wealth creation.”
Forbes Israel, the Tel Aviv offshoot of the American business magazine, has a cover story onJewish billionaires. The Israeli edition has made up a list, drawn fromForbes‘s overall ranking of the world’s 1,426 billionaires, of the165 richest Jews in the world.
“Per capita, Jews are a little over 100 times more likely to become billionaires than the rest of the human race.”
The billionaire on the cover is cosmetics heirRonald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. His $3.6 billion makes him, according toForbes Israel, the world’s 69th richest Jew. (By the way, Lauder has one of those rare New York Cityconcealed-carry permits.)
In America, this just isn’t done in the mainstream media, even though it’s obvious and fairly easy to do.
Sure,Forbeshas been publishing its rankings of rich people for three decades.
Moreover, counting by ethnicity is something that the government, corporations, and foundations have been doing assiduously since the late 1960s.
And these days, it’s easy to look up most well-known individuals’ ethnicity on the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, usually states the subject’s ancestry immediately after the table of contents. (That reflects a major change in our culture’s emphasis. At bedtime, I often browse in my 1971 edition of theEncyclopedia Britannica. Biographical entries back then were quite reticent about ethnic backgrounds.)
You can use Google Translate to convert theForbes Israelrichest Jewsrankingfrom Hebrew into awkward-but-adequate English. Thus, “165 billionaires [sic] Jews constitute 11% of global billionaires list, and common wealth reaches $812 billion,” or an average of $4.9 billion per Jewish billionaire.
Jews are usually said to comprise about 0.2% of the world’s population, so 11% of the world’s billionaires means they’re doing pretty well.
Here’s my count ofForbes Israel‘s list, with Jewish billionaires as a fraction of the country’s total number of billionaires:
US 105/442 = 24% Israel 16/16 = 100% Russia 12/99 = 12% Canada 6/29 = 21% Brazil 6/45 = 13% UK 5/37 = 14% Ukraine 3/10 = 30% Monaco 3/3 = 100% Australia 3/22 = 14% Spain 2/20 = 10% France 2/24 = 8% Germany 1/58 = 2% Hong Kong 1/39 = 3%
Page’s conclusion brings up an obvious question: Who is a Jew? Generally, non-rabbinical Jewish organizations, such asForbes Israel, tend to attribute Jewishness generously to individuals perceived as good guys, such as the popular Page. In turn, it’s common to quibble when the topic is anybody who isn’t popular. (Thus, you’ll often see it argued that, say, Einstein was obviously Jewish despite not being religious, while Trotsky can’t be considered Jewish because he was not religious.)
In the odd case of Page, we know that his mother came from a Zionist household and had moved to Israel, but the background of his father, the late computer-science professor Carl Victor Page, is obscure. A Google search reveals only that his paternal grandfather had been anautoworkerand labor activist, and that his father despised religion.
The Page family seemed to have cherished an old-fashioned socialist belief that in the future, ancestry would no longer matter. Ironically, the wife of Page’s partner Brin,Anne Wojcicki, cofounded that quintessential 21st-century company23andMe, which offers DNA testing for genealogy enthusiasts.
The true problem withForbes Israel‘s list is neither ideological nor ethical. Instead, it’s a slapdash affair with poor quality control.Forbes Israelpalpably undercounts the number of American Jews on theForbes 400listof the richest Americans. (In 2012, it took a minimum net worth of $1.1 billion to make the400, so everyone on theForbes 400is a billionaire, but a few hard-up billionaires with only $1.0 billion didn’t make theForbes 400.)
To check which of the competing lists is more accurate, I’ve searched the first 21 names on whichn/aandForbes Israeldisagree.
In one case,Forbes Israelcategorizes as Jewish a man who appears to be a WASP, cable TV sultanAmos Barr Hostetter Jr., whilen/arightly classifies him as Northwestern European.
The other 20 disagreements consist ofForbesbillionaires left off theForbes Israellist thatn/adenotes as Jewish.
I rapidly found that for 16 of those 20,n/ahas a slam-dunk case based on readily accessible online evidence. For example, the Wikipedia article on former American Enterprise Institute chairmanBruce Kovner($4.3 billion) states: “Kovner was born into a Russian Jewish family.…”
Two of the disputed 20, Orange County real-estate baronDonald Brenand Indianapolis Colts ownerJames Irsay, are the product of mixed marriages.
That leaves only two ofn/a‘s 20 whom I couldn’t easily document: banker Bernard Saul II and Miami TV station ownerEdmund Ansin. The first has a stereotypical Jewish name, while the second is a relatively rare name that has left me stumped. Ansin’s father is said to be an immigrant from Ukraine who opened a shoe factory in Worcester, MA.
In general, I found thatn/a‘s accuracy is better by far.
Overall,n/astates that 140 of theForbes 400rankings of richest Americans, or35 percent, are Jewish.
Perhaps that 35 percent figure is slightly overstated by fully counting individuals of mixed backgrounds, such as Microsoft CEOSteve Ballmer. Then again,n/amay be missing a roughly similar number of non-Jewish names of billionaires who are a half or a quarter Jewish in their mother’s lines, so it may all balance out.
In general, however, the question of how to count people of partial Jewish ancestry is, no matter how fascinating in theory, still difficult at present. The current denizens of theForbes 400(average age66) largely come from generations when mixed marriages were fairly rare, so solving this methodological issue can reasonably be deferred for a few more years.
Jews are usually said to make up about two percent of the US population and perhaps three percent of the older generation that dominates theForbes 400. Therefore, Jews are roughly 17 times more likely per capita to make theForbes 400than is the rest of the American population.
This 35 percent Jewish figure has been fairly stable sincen/astarted his analyses in 2009. The first careful analysis of theForbes 400was performed byNathaniel Weylback in 1987, when he found23 percentwere Jewish. That suggests a sizable increase in Jewish representation among plutocrats over the last generation. Yet bear in mind that’s only one data point from the past. I’ve been casually following theForbes 400for 30 years, and membership shifts frequently due to various bubbles.
n/ahas also done a quick and dirty look atForbes‘s global list of1,426 billionaires(#1, by the way, is Lebanese-MexicanCarlos Slim). UnlikeForbes Israel‘s estimate of 11 percent Jewish,n/acomes up with over17 percent. Note that this is pretty much of aSWAGfor Eastern Europe, where it’s harder for an Anglophone to look up biographical information. Still, this estimate would mean that per capita, Jews are a little over 100 times more likely to become billionaires than the rest of the human race.
In summary, as an Israeli might tell you, an informed opinion is better than an uninformed one.