Mary Katharine Ham

You want the perfect argument for the death tax? It’s blonde and sitting in a California jail cell.

After all, had Conrad Hilton been unable to pass down his enormous wealth, the Hilton family line might never have turned so dramatically from driven to dilettante, celebrated entrepreneur to celebrity ennui, famous hotelier to just plain ‘ho. Right?

This is what wealth begets, the Left would say. It should be redistributed, limited, corked like so many bottles of Cristal. And, it is true, Paris has not followed gallantly in the footsteps of one of the great early giants of the American economy—a man who managed to put his own name in lights over every major city’s skyline, starting when he bought the modest Mobley Hotel in dusty Cisco, Texas in 1919.

Some call his great-granddaughter an entrepreneur, but that dog’s so far from hunting its head is sticking out of  Paris’ purse. Yes, Paris has her own TV show and may even open a line of hotels, but she’s famous for being famous—a socialite who’s social life has propelled her into a position from where, by dumb luck, she is actually able to contribute to the economy.

Of course, I’m morally opposed to the death tax, even when wealth begets Paris Hilton. Because Conrad earned the money, he had the right to do with it exactly as he wished, and allow his family to build on it exactly as they pleased.

But, are there American heirs and heiresses whose mere existence does not argue against inheritable earnings? Are there some that--dare I ask?—even reflect well on the stock from which they sprung? Are there Americans of name and money who have more to commend them than just names and money?

It didn’t take much research to find that, no, not all heirs and heiresses are Parises, thank goodness.

The Donald himself, for instance, is the son of a well-known New York real estate magnate whom he eclipsed during his career.

"My father liked that. I've known many fathers who cringe when their son does better," Trump has said of his larger-than-life success and perennial spot on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.

Sure Donald has his Paris-esque qualities—namely narcissism—but his persona is just part of an empire that employs thousands.

Speaking of Forbes, Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine fame and two presidential runs, is the heir to his father Malcolm Forbes’ fortune. When Warren Buffet calls him and others like him part of the “lucky sperm club,” Forbes says:

Forbes sees passing down money as little different than passing down intelligence.

"Allowing children to build upon what you built is a good thing, not a bad thing," says Forbes, who was able to make two unsuccessful runs for the presidency because of the $400 million inheritance from father Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine fame.


Anderson Cooper, the very successful and fairly fair host of "Anderson Cooper 360" on CNN, is a Vanderbilt, son of Gloria Vanderbilt of designer denim fame and many-greats grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built his wealth by building a railroad and shipping network across the United States.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia’s full name is John D. Rockefeller IV, the descendant of the original Big Oil man. His glaring failing is, of course, that he became a Democrat, but other than that, he’s a stand-up citizen and does his family’s legacy no serious discredit.

William Clay Ford, Jr., who has held every top spot at the Ford Motor Company, is the great-grandson of both Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. While Ford’s handling of the Ford family’s industry can be questioned, he has been on the cover of Time for running a company rather than running his life into the ground.

As for the Firestone family, Brooks Firestone, the grandson of Harvey, proves what good can come of an inheritance when it is put to use somewhere other than in the family business. Brooks tired of the tire business and followed a whim into wines. With the Firestone fortune, he started one of the first vineyards on California’s central coast.

Time magazine said of the venture, in 1987:

"Brooks Firestone’s importance to the California wine industry is first of all historical: He was a pioneer, an inspirer, and expander of possibilities; he took a chance on an untried wine area, then stuck with it and made it pay..."


And, that is what a combination of inherited wealth and inherited entrepreneurial spirit can get you. Paris, of course, has been a pioneer in a totally different kind of whine.

Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of Michael Bloomberg, has hit her mid-20s without falling into the starlet/socialite spiral, despite having the looks and connections for it. Instead, she’s an accomplished equestrian and philanthropist. She started her own charity for other riders and helps the disabled with therapeutic riding.

Heirs and heiresses are born into a lot of pressure, but they’re also born into a lot of privilege. If their parents wish to pass down their fortunes, their children are entitled to them. It is not immoral for children to benefit from a parent’s hard work and genius, just as that child may inherit some of that work ethic and genius through the gene pool.

Some ultra-rich parents choose not to pass down significant amounts. The Gateses and Warren Buffet, notably, plan to give most of their money to charity. The urge is understandable. It’s hard to teach a child to value money when he has access to so much of it and no understanding of where it came from. It’s hard to teach a child to value hard work when he knows hard work isn’t necessary.

But not all heirs and heiresses are Parises, thank goodness.

Who knows where the Hilton family went wrong. Was it when Conrad married Zsa Zsa gabor? Was it when his son Nicky married Elizabeth Taylor? Was it when the company’s headquarters moved to Beverly Hills?

Perhaps, when Paris is done with her stint in jail, she’ll finally take note of this lesson, inherited by Conrad from his father, a Norwegian immigrant named Gus. It’s a verse Gus would recite on trips, among many others meant to impart lessons to his young son. Conrad later printed it in his autobiography, “Be My Guest:”

The man who wins is an average man,
Not built on any particular plan;
Not blessed with any particular luck-
Just steady and earnest and full of pluck.
The man who wins is the man who works,
Who neither labor nor trouble shirks;
Who uses his hands, his head, his eyes-
The man who wins is the man who tries.


Pluck, work, labor, trouble. It’s an old, simple lesson that Paris clearly missed. If she were to learn it now, her fortune would likely make an impact on a sector of the American economy outside of tabloid sales.


Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of HotAir.com, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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