Anderson Cooper’s Reflections on Inheritance: Not Unethical, Perhaps; Just Ignorant, Self-Serving and Presumptuous

I was going to let this go, but it kept gnawing at me, and nobody in the news media called out Anderson Cooper on his outrageous misrepresentation of history and human character. I guess it’s up to me.


“Thanks for nothing, Mom!”

Cooper is the son of fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, and thus an heir to one of the most storied of American family fortunes. Apparently Cooper has known for some time that he’s getting none of his mother’s estimated 200 million dollar estate, and he told Howard Stern recently that he was fine about it, an had no bitterness or regrets.

“I don’t believe in inheriting money, ” he told Stern. “That’s a total fantasy … I think it’s an initiative-sucker, I think it’s a curse. Who’s inherited a lot of money who’s gone on to do things in their own life? If I felt that there was some pot of gold waiting for me, I don’t know that I would have been so motivated.”

As for his mother, who inherited many millions and who still made a name for herself by launching a  line of designer jeans, Cooper told Stern, “I think that’s an anomaly.”

Cooper is free to adopt whatever myths and rationalizations that help him get over the fact that his mother is cutting him off. He is not free to misinform the historically ignorant that a tendency exists which may describe his own mental state but which is far from the presumptive norm with others throughout the centuries. “Who’s inherited a lot of money who’s gone on to do things in their own life?” The answer to that question is “Too many to mention, Anderson. Are you kidding? Do you know anything about history?”

Just counting U.S. Presidents, which I think even in this period of reduced stature among White House occupants, would still qualify as “doing something with your life,” we have Washington, Madison and Monroe, all of whom inherited substantial property and assets from their families, as did William Henry Harrison and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison. Both Roosevelts inherited substantial wealth; so did William Howard Taft, whose family was (and is) one of the richest in the U.S. Both Bush’s managed not to let the curse of inherited wealth undermine their wills to succeed.

I would have thought that a CNN anchor of a Democratic bent might have heard of the Kennedys—Jack, Bobby, Teddy, Caroline (now our Ambassador to Japan), as well as fellow broadcast journalist Maria Shriver, all of whom were well-financed by the Kennedy and Fitzgerald fortune. On the Republican side we have former Vice President and long-time New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who inherited a bundle from his mega-billionaire father, as did Nelson’s accomplished siblings David (banker/financier); Winthrop (Governor/philanthropist); Jay, a U.S. Senator from West Virginia, John D. Rockefeller III, who funded the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts ( call me crazy, but I think that’s “something.”); his father, John Jr., who built Rockefeller Center; Laurance Rockefeller, who was an epic conservationist who also financed the creation of Eastern Air Lines; Sharon Percy Rockefeller  long the CEO of WETA Public Broadcasting, and Win Rockefeller, son of Winthrop, an Arkansas Lt. Governor.

Of course, this is just the Rockefellers: most of the richest families in the U.S have produced statesmen, business leaders, artists and other successful, productive citizens. Not only is Cooper’s mother not an anomaly among those who have inherited family money; she’s not even an anomaly in his own family. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney became a sculptor with an international reputation, as well as an important patron of other artists. She also established the Whitney Museum, one of the top art museums in the country.

I think Mitt Romney and Donald Trump have managed pretty well despite the handicap of inheriting great wealth. So did Robert E. Lee and Winston Churchill. There are many, many others whose impressive life accomplishments  disprove Cooper’s assertion about inherited wealth. Verdict: His statement has no basis in fact.

It also strikes me as progressive propaganda, perhaps unintentional. Democrats want to make the case that estates should be heavily taxed, and Cooper’s baloney about inheritances sapping initiative will bolster their argument. In fact, the strong motive of parents to achieve financial independence and pass along a healthy inheritance to their children is one of the traditional cornerstones of American initiative, frugality and enterprise. Discouraging inherited wealth may do more to reduce initiative by the giving generation than inherited estates do to inhibit recipients from ‘doing things in their own lives.’

Especially since, contrary to the theories of Anderson Cooper, inheriting wealth often doesn’t inhibit their motivation at all.


Source and Graphic: CNN

15 thoughts on “Anderson Cooper’s Reflections on Inheritance: Not Unethical, Perhaps; Just Ignorant, Self-Serving and Presumptuous

  1. Well, nothing wrong with inheriting a lot of money contrary to Anderson Cooper’s assertions. It’s probably a neutral factor as far as character. T.R. is one of my favorite Presidents and did so many things for this country to benefit it, he ranks as one of the greatest. Joseph Kennedy was very ambitious but had some character flaws as most historians will agree. As a result, at the worst we had Teddy Kennedy who fortunately never became President. I think Cooper is emulating Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Grapes”.

  2. Cooper seems to be going out of his way to cement his own liberal credentials with his reliably left-of-center commentary supplemented with the appropriate self-hate and bolstered by his “coming out”. Does he plan to run for office, I wonder?

  3. I think Mitt Romney and Donald Trump have managed pretty well despite the handicap of inheriting great wealth. So did Robert E. Lee and Winston Churchill.

    Winston Churchill did not inherit great wealth, even though his mother was an heiress (money didn’t stretch as far as it used to by the time he inherited in turn, and besides most of that had gone by then anyway). He had to rely on his writings and his public career for income.

  4. I’m very saddened to read about Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s unfortunate encounter with the gorgon Medusa, whom I had previously thought to be just a myth.

    …unless you meant that she became a sculptor.


  5. You should be lambasting Anderson — but for different reasons. Would have received the same education and opportunities but for his family’s money, power, and popularity? Probably not. So even if he doesn’t inherit money, he doesn’t have to, because his family helped him get to where he is now.

    Same is true for many of the Bush and Kennedy family members. And then, of course, there is the Dupont heir who is a waste of space.

    • Of course that’s right—the “self-serving” adjective was mean to cover that by allusion; mainly I wanted to focus on the ridiculous statement about not being able to name anyone (other than mom) who wasn’t converted into a slug by the burdens of privilege.

      The DuPont heirs aren’t a total loss…remember two term Delaware U.S. Senator Pierre.

  6. Jack: “as did William Henry Harrison and his son, Benjamin Harrison.”
    Typo? Grandson?
    And, was your omission of Paris Hilton intentional? 😛

    • Ah, but who can forget Paris Hilton’s Cameo in “The Bling Ring”? Actually, thinking about it, that movie would be a marvelous exemplification of why Jack’s preoccupation with ethics is totally irrelevant at the present time in the USA 😉

  7. It could have been a fine personal reflection- that HE is glad he doesn’t have a giant inheritance coming, because it keeps HIM striving and doesn’t give HIM a fallback cushion that could sap his initiative. People assuming that their own circumstances apply as human universal constants are a huge pet peeve of mine.

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