Aspen and the Self-Made Man or Woman


Photo Courtesy of user Brian Wilkins

One of the coolest things I've found in all my years living in Aspen is how many successful entrepreneurs I've come across. Don't get me wrong, a European vacation can be absolutely wonderful, but almost all the people I meet in Aspen really made it themselves.

In Chrystia Freeland's very insightful book Plutocrats, she shows that we really do live in an age of meritocracy. In 1916, for example, of the richest one percent of Americans, only twenty percent made their income from paid work; fast forward to 2004, that number was sixty percent. And in 2017, I can guarantee you that number is even higher. A survey of a few studies from Forbes reveals the same trend as well. Of the 1,226 people on its 2012 billionaire list, 840 were self-made. Furthermore, as Freeland writes, "In 1982, 40 percent of the Forbes 400 were the first generation in their family to run their own businesses. By 2011, that figure had risen to 69 percent."

Live in Aspen and you will, to quote Freeland, meet the "economic meritocrats" who create our national wealth. All you have to do is attend a lecture at the Aspen Institute or spend a lovely summer day at the Aspen Music Festival. And it never gets old because the people never get old. These generators of wealth are the ones constantly pushing America and the world forward. John Doerr was an early investor in Google and John Paulson had visionary insight to real estate finance, two of many of Aspen's self-made entrepreneurs.

And not to sound overly grandiose, but Aspen in many ways is a 21st century version of the Renaissance, where the smartest visionaries bounced ideas off one another. If you consider yourself to be an individual success who only wants to grow more and more, the town 7,908 feet above sea level is your destiny.