Elitist theorists views on social equality and mobility in the United States

Essay by Katherine Cruz June 2004

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According to "Who's Running America?" by Thomas R. Dye: "It is widely believed that great personal wealth in America today is inherited and that opportunities to acquire great personal fortunes dried up after the Industrial Revolution" (Dye, 2002, p. 50).

From a historical point of view, I can see why the above statement was accepted as truth. For example: Anna (Richardson) Harkness, the widow of Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness and the mother of Edward Stephen Harkness (Edward was listed in the Forbes list of 1918 largest individual American fortunes of its days). Her fortune was certainly as substantial, as her son's. She was the instigator of the great Commonwealth Foundation, which she initially created in the honor of her deceased son Charles William Harkness. Her fortune certainly exceeds the one of Mrs. Edward Henry Harriman, cited as the richest woman of that time. Another noticeable wealthy woman is Anna Maria (Weightman) Walker Penfield, the main heiress to the William Weightman fortune of Philadelphia.

Her wealth was put at $120 million in 1907 and she lived until 1926. The list goes on. Dye indicated a larger list from Forbes magazine, he states:

"Forbes magazine regularly tracks the richest Americans--"the Forbes 400." In 1982 there were only 13 billionaires on the Forbes list; the total net worth of the entire list was only $92 billion dollars. In 2000 there were 274 billionaires, and the total net worth of the list was an astonishing $1.2 trillion" (Dye, 2002, p. 50).

After presenting the above evidence Dye concludes that the Marxist critics of American society are wrong! He states that all the available evidence points to considerable social mobility among the wealthiest Americans (Dye, 2002, p. 51).

According to Edward Wolff, a professor of economics at New York University, "The most common measure used,