Forbes's Record Number of Women Billionaires Is Bad For Women

On Monday, Forbes unveiled its 28th annual billionaires list, and 2013 is already being touted as the year women finally broke through the diamond chandelier-covered ceiling. "Record number of women make 28th annual Forbes billionaires list," trumpeted the Guardian. "Girl Power!," cried the Daily Mail. And with the number of women billionaires on the list up 25 percent from last year, and women making up a record percentage of newcomers, 2014's list does look something like progress -- at least in the rarefied world of the global super-rich. But look a little closer, and that initial burst of gender optimism seems misplaced.

All those rich and powerful women? Let's say many of them have the men in their lives to thank for their place on this year's list. Only 32 of the 172 women billionaires were primarily responsible for building their own fortunes. Those celebrated newcomers? Just 5 of 42 are designated self-made by Forbes. (The magazine's use of the term "self-made," I should note, is somewhat vague; the closest thing to a definition the magazine provided was that the billionaire had "a meaningful hand in building" her own fortune.)

In particular, it's at the top of the list where the self-made women really drop off. The top 20 women on the list are all heiresses: Two of the three richest women, Christy Walton (No. 9) and Alice Walton (No. 13), are the daughter-in-law and daughter, respectively, of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Go a bit further down the list, and you find  Jacqueline Mars (No. 31), who, along with her two brothers inherited her father Forrest Sr.'s candy company; Gina Rinehart (No. 46), who inherited her father's iron ore and coal fortune in Australia; and Susanne Klatten (No. 49), who owns nearly 50 percent of her family's BMW empire. It's not until number 22 on the list that you find the first self-made woman billionaire: Chan Laiwa, the founder of one of Beijing's largest real estate development companies. (Other "self-made women" included Nigeria's first female billionaire, Folorunsho Alakija (No. 687), whose company owns a large stake in one of the country's most prolific oil blocks, as well as Facebook's ubiquitous Sheryl Sandberg (No. 1540).

Is this a matter of the largest fortunes taking longer than a lifetime to amass, leading to a higher concentration of inherited wealth at the top of the list? Unlikely: 13 of the 20 richest men in the world, for instance are self-made. This isn't to say these women aren't hard-working, of course; some of the women hold high leadership positions at the companies they've completely or partially inherited. But this list that's being hailed as a marker of a women's progress really is just more evidence that the glass ceiling -- at least at these heights -- remains very real.

There's another takeaway from the Forbes list: 2013 was a great year for the super-rich, whose collective wealth now stands at $6.4 trillion, up from $5.4 trillion the previous year. The list made its debut a little more than a month after Oxfam noted that the richest 1 percent have increased their share of the wealth in 24 of the 26 countries for which Oxfam had data and that the richest 85 people in the world possess the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of people worldwide (you can see all of those 85 here). Most of the women on Forbes's list, who aren't exactly shining examples of meritocracy, attest more to how these inequalities live on generation after generation than any semblance of gender progress.

In other words, sure, you might look at Forbes's 2014 billionaires list and see women's empowerment, if you squint hard enough.  But there are a lot more markers here of what's going wrong with society than what's changing for the better.

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National Security

Who Was Right on Ukraine: Sarah Palin or FP?

In late October 2008, in the heat of the U.S. presidential campaign, Sarah Palin took to a stage in Reno, Nevada, and announced that if Barack Obama were elected president of the United States, Russia might invade Ukraine. "After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next," Palin said.  

Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell called that hypothetical "an extremely far-fetched scenario." "Given how Russia has been able to unsettle Ukraine's pro-Western government without firing a shot, I don't see why violence would be necessary to bring Kiev to heel."

Well, this week Russia did in fact invade Ukraine. And it turns out the former governor of Alaska has a very long memory. "Yes, I could see this one from Alaska. I'm usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as ‘an extremely far-fetched scenario' by the ‘high-brow' Foreign Policy magazine," Palin wrote on her Facebook page Friday, reminding her four million followers of her soothsaying. (We thank the former governor for the resulting web traffic.)

So we have to hand it to her: Six years after the publication of a 156-word blog post, points to Palin. Sort of.

Foreign policy wasn't Palin's strong suit when the campaign began, so the McCain team assigned two Republican foreign policy operatives -- Randy Scheunemann and Steve Biegun -- to tutor her. And while Palin took to her studies with gusto, the campaign made a horrifying discovering in September 2008. "Palin couldn't explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She didn't know what the Fed did," John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write in their book Game Change. "Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein. Asked to identify the enemy that her son [in the National Guard] would be fighting in Iraq, she drew a blank." And then, of course, Palin told ABC's Charlie Gibson that "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska" -- a comment quickly immortalized by comedian Tina Fey as "I can see Russia from my house," which would become a one-line metaphor for the governor's thin foreign policy resume.

So...did Palin sit down one day in October, soberly consider the facts, and conclude that, yes, Russia would probably invade Ukraine if Obama were elected?

It's easier to see the comment in the context of the GOP's 2008 narrative, which was the same as most Republican campaigns since World War II: Democrats are weak on national defense and that weakness will invite aggression, endangering us all. Obama would do things like "sit down with the world's worst dictators," Palin said, referring to Iran, while depriving our troops in Iraq of the tools they needed to win. In short, there are powerful enemies in the world; I am strong; my opponent is not; I'll keep you safe.

It is a psychologically powerful message, which is why conservatives use it over and over again. America is always under threat, Democrats are always naïve, the GOP is always strong. So, for the purposes of riling up the crowd in Reno -- which Palin did quite effectively -- almost any scenario would have done.

Which may be something Palin would prefer you didn't remember. One of the other "crisis scenarios" she said could befall an Obama administration entailed President Obama sending American troops into Pakistan without Islamabad's permission -- "invading the sovereign territory of a troubled partner in the war against terrorism." On that, Palin was right again: that horrible scenario came to pass as well, resulting in the killing of Osama bin Laden. But as far as we can tell, she has yet to say Told-Ya-So on Facebook.

Here is the full video of Palin's Reno appearance:

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