A genuine selfmade billionaire

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 22, 2024

I believe that no-one deserves to be a billionaire. In the public realm, defenders of wealth concentration often come up with an example of a person who has created all their wealth themselves – the selfmade billionaire. They didn’t get their money from inheritance or some other form of luck, but from entrepreneurial instincts and efforts. At least, that’s how the argument goes.

The Dutch political philosopher Huub Brouwer and I hold that no-one deserves to be a billionaire (as I am sure many of you do too). And we were thinking that one way to make our (abstract, theoretical) arguments accessible to “Joe the plummer”, is to take an individual case of a selfmade billionaire, and delve into the details of their life story, and then apply the general arguments against the (lack of) deservingness of extreme wealth concentration to such a case study.

The question now is: who would make for the best casestudy – someone very rich (a billionaire or close by) who is perceived to be genuinely selfmade. Names that are often mentioned are JK Rowling, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and, more recently, Taylor Swift. Yet we’re probably running around in small circles, always mentioning the same (famous and visible) people.

Who do you think is the most selfmade billionaire?