Let's talk about Kylie Jenner: scion of the Jenner-Kardashian family, reality TV show star, entrepreneur, social-media influencer.

Also, at age 20, near-billionaire. She's worth more than $900 million, according to Forbes, which says it calculated her net worth conservatively.

Her story--and those calculations--reflect a central, brutal truth of our age about anxiety, work, and what holds so many of us back.

"I don't know what's going on"

People are reacting to this news about her wealth as you might expect. I wrote about Elon Musk yesterday, and how he was catching some absurd flak for building a mini submarine and sending it to Thailand to try to help in the youth soccer team rescue. One commenter aptly summarized the situation.

"The media is criticizing Elon for trying to help while praising Kylie Jenner for being 'self-made'" he wrote on Inc.'s Facebook page. "I don't know what's going on anymore lol."

Yet, while it's easy to dismiss or minimize Kylie Jenner's wealth, to say somehow that she didn't "earn" it, I think doing so misses the point.

Good for her to have accumulated that wealth--far more than her more famous half-sisters. (At least, more famous to me--although I'm not exactly in their demographic.)

And if you're reading this news with disdain or envy, I think it's time to take a long look at one of the brutal truths of our society. Most of our modern, super-successful entrepreneurs are people like Kylie Jenner: smart and opportunistic, sure. But their key advantage is that they were born on first or second base, at least. They never faced true fear, or wanted for life's necessities.

"So boring"

I read this Forbes story about Jenner just after I'd happened upon a story on Bloomberg Quint: "Why Are Young Billionaires So Boring?"

The answer they came up with, as they examined people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Elon Musk, is that they all started out life knowing that no matter what they did, they'd be OK.

Maybe they weren't rich, but they were at least going to be upper middle class--usually because they began their lives on that rung or higher.

Where earlier generations' formative experiences revolved around paper routes and pathos, today's prototypical founding story involves an upper-middle-class childhood, early access to a computer, and an elite education--even if that education was abandoned.

Before he famously walked out of Harvard University, Zuckerberg created an instant messaging system for his dad's dental practice at age 12.

At 15, Twitter's Jack Dorsey was dazzling his bosses during a programming internship.

And Uber's Travis Kalanick was writing code by middle school.

You can't quit Harvard until after you're already at Harvard

Tell me what's really the difference between Kylie Jenner's situation compared to, say, Zuckerberg at 20?

She took advantage of rising culture and technology, coupled with her family's celebrity and wealth. She leveraged it. She worked hard.

But she also never had to point her attention elsewhere. She became a mom earlier this year, but she didn't ever have to work two jobs or quit school just to put food on the table. She's not worried about setting up a college fund or contributing to a 401(k), much less making rent.

Much like her male compatriots.

The point is, you can't drop out of Harvard to start a company, as both Gates and Zuckerberg did, if you haven't already been admitted to Harvard.

You can't quit your high-paying Wall Street job to start an internet company, as Bezos did, until you already have the high-paying Wall Street job.

"Let me tell you about the very rich"

So if Jenner's wealth bothers you--and if you're not approaching it from a sexist perspective, meaning that you're similarly bothered by the wealth that people like Zuckerberg, Gates, and Bezos had at her age--then I think your concern isn't really with her.

Instead, it's with the bumpers and hurdles we've built into our system of capitalism. 

In order to create great wealth, you have to act. And there are a lot of brilliant, ambitious, talented, hard-working people who will never act.

Not because they aren't good people, or because they're lazy. Instead, it's because they weren't born on third base, or even first or second base. They have to work for a living in the meantime to provide for themselves and their families.

"Let me tell you about the very rich," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. "They are different from you and me."

But not as different as you might think--except that long before they made their fortunes, they already knew they'd never have to worry.

Published on: Jul 12, 2018
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