The truth about most so-called 'self-made' millionaires and billionaires is that they started off from privileged positions that gave them a significant leg up.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 29, 2021. It has since been updated.
Everyone loves a good rags-to-riches story. It gives us something to aspire to and convinces us that maybe, just maybe, if we tried hard enough if we kept our heads down and did our best if we swallowed our discomfort and pushed past the burnout if we took a little more risk, we might also end up with more money than most people can dream about. Pop culture and news outlets peddle stories of the richest and most powerful people in the world today who made their millions and billions worth of wealth by hard work, unwavering grit and sheer force of will. However, the reality—more often than not—is that most of them started off from privileged positions and had a lot of help to get to where they are today.
On this day in 1994: Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in his garage. pic.twitter.com/vtlu570KeX— Jon Erlichman (@JonErlichman) July 5, 2020
Twitter user Aidan Smith made this point in a series of tweets where he unraveled how Jeff Bezos and some of his equally rich peers reached where they are today. Reacting to Jon Erlichman's tweet about how Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in his garage, Smith wrote: "Cute propaganda. In reality, Bezos's mommy and daddy gave him $245,573 to stop Amazon from failing in 1995, but you'd never know it from listening to our right-wing mainstream media that blames poverty on personal failure and attributes wealth to personal virtue."
I’m really glad this is getting more attention. Having well off parents is SUCH a privilege. Even if you didn’t take a penny from them to start, just knowing that you have a safety net if you ever needed, they would bail you out gives a lot of mental ease.— M I A 🐥 (@mia_hahah) July 7, 2020
"You can find this in the backstory of almost every billionaire. The story of Bill Gates is told as if he was a normal guy who dropped out of college to pursue his dream when in reality his mom Mary Gates, the president of United Way, convinced IBM to hire Microsoft to build an OS," Smith continued. "Gates is a talented individual but his career break wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t the child of wealthy, well-connected parents who were able to convince IBM to hire the-then obscure Microsoft to build an OS. He likely wouldn’t be a billionaire if he was born working-class."
The tale of Warren Buffett is told as if he was a scrappy upstart living in a lower-middle class suburban home in Omaha who had a knack for investing. In reality his dad was a congressman (and Bob Taft’s campaign manager!) and, uh... pic.twitter.com/GmjyMCKYlU— Aidan Smith (@aidan_smx) July 6, 2020
"Even if you're not born to mega-celebrities it really can't be stressed enough how much a leg up children of the wealthy get even indirectly. Mark Zuckerberg's wealthy parents sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy (tuition: almost $57,000 for boarding) and got software developer David Newman to give him private tutoring in computer science before he even entered college. Zuckerberg, is, like others mentioned, an intelligent individual in his own right, but if he was born into a working-class family he simply wouldn't have had the same opportunities as he did," he pointed out.
People laugh when Kylie Jenner is described as a “self-made billionaire” as if she doesn’t come from one of the wealthiest/best-known families on Earth, but really, it’s no more absurd then describing Gates’/Bezos’ wealth as being a “self-made” product of meritocracy.— Aidan Smith (@aidan_smx) July 6, 2020
"Remember: People took such an interest in Zuckerberg to begin with because he already entered college with the reputation as a computing prodigy, which, again, couldn't have happened if his parents didn't hire a software developer to tutor him. The benefits of having wealthy parents, even if they don't give you a 1/4 million as Bezos' did, can't be underestimated. There is no fair playing field," Smith tweeted. Speaking to Bored Panda, he explained that Americans aren't the only ones to believe such myths about businessmen while the truth is a mere Google search away.
“I built Globogym from the ground up. With nothing more than a little can-do attitude and some elbow grease...and yes a large inheritance from my father Earl Goodman.”— Katt-Fish’t Williams (@Cheytown69) July 6, 2020
"It's far from a U.S.-exclusive phenomenon, but in America, it's easier for most people to imagine becoming a billionaire themselves than it is to imagine an economic order in which a handful of people own half the world’s wealth. Social mobility from working-class to middle-class is increasingly out of reach and the illusion that one can conceivably amass a net worth of over a billion dollars is a comforting fantasy for many people," he said, before explaining why this belief that certain famous billionaires are self-made when they really aren't is harmful to a variety of reasons. "For one, even in the rare cases in which people from working-class backgrounds amass exorbitant wealth, it's still not 'self-made' given that amassing wealth on that scale will always have come from ruthless exploitation of others," he said.
Exactly. It’s all propaganda.— OC George (@ocgeorge_) July 7, 2020
To be wealthy, you either have to stumble on good luck, be a criminal, or be born into relative wealth
people always act like jeff bezos did something ground breaking,, he didnt he just thought "i should make a place where people can order things online!". other people probs had the same idea, he just had the means to do it and luck that it took off— ✨ liz (she/her) 🧚♀️ (@gothgirlonline) July 7, 2020
Goes to show that all you need to succeed is blood, sweat, and... *checks notes* multiple generations of amassed assets often built on the labor of the poor.— Mito (@Mitochondria95) July 6, 2020