Forbes 400 or the SiCKO 12?

By Donna Smith –

It’s a club I will never be in. Michael Moore told us about them this week. The Forbes 400. The richest 400 people in America. They own more stuff and have more cash and assets than half of the rest of us (roughly 150,000,000+ people) combined.

But I had to dig deeper. It wasn’t offensive enough to me that just 400 people own so much that was as the result of the hard work and suffering of so many of the rest of us. I was willing to bet it was a deeper profile of power in 2011 America than that repugnant statistic alone indicated.

I was right. In the Forbes 400, most of the people are white guys. In fact, 365 are guys. Very few non-white people, and only 35 women are in the club. And Oprah is the only black woman. 365 plus 34 and Oprah.

That just about says what we need to know about our society. It’s a good ol’ mostly white boys and a few mostly white girls plus Oprah club. Their money controls our industries; their industries control our access to the good life or lack thereof. And they are still mostly male, mostly white and drenched in wealth – even 235 years after a bunch of mostly white, all male folks declared that all men had rights unalienable. They weren’t lying about the men part. I’ll give them that.

Sometimes when I am thinking we’ve advanced so far since the Founding Fathers set forth upon this continent a new nation that I forget reality slapping me in the face. I am not on the Forbes 400 or the Forbes 4,000 or the Forbes 4,000,000. And I never will be. I’m a working class white girl.

I guess I will have to content myself with the notion that I’m in a more exclusive club than they are. I am a cancer survivor who weathered financial collapse that followed being an American with inadequate access to healthcare and then had my story told in Michael Moore’s 2007 film, SiCKO. About a dozen of us were featured in that film, and we’re not in the Forbes cohort.

Just yesterday, the report came out that bankruptcies due to medical crisis had not been significantly reduced by the Massachusetts healthcare bill known as RomneyCare, or Chapter 58, the mandated purchase of private insurance, passed in 2006. More than half of all personal bankruptcies still flow from medical crisis and of those going broke, 89 percent had health insurance.

I think that my club, though small, is pretty diverse and full of good-hearted people (men, women and kids of all races, colors, sizes and shapes) who would trade the chance for all the influence and power on earth and a slot on the Forbes 400 list – and our moments of fame in SiCKO — for a transformed healthcare system that provided a single standard of high quality care for all without financial barriers. I like my club better.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses United (the new national arm of the California Nurses Association), National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, and Healthcare-NOW! Steering Committee member.


  1. Pat on March 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    The data on bankruptcy in Massachusetts is further evidence we need to keep fighting for single payer. The PPACA is a vast improvement over what we had before, but it’s not enough.