I'm pretty sure that economic levels are more fluid in the US than other countries. I think the Vanderbilts are rather poor now. Donald Trump, while wealthy, is not as wealthy as his father.
Inheritance of wealth tends to vary some over time, depending on a lot of things (including tax policies, but that's not as important as many might think). There's a lot of evidence that inheritance was a leading cause of wealth in the US for a long time. For the past few decades, inheritance has declined somewhat (but not a lot) as a source of wealth. It will be interesting to see how the newly rich (Gates, etc.) bequeath their fortunes--inherited wealth might well make a comeback, and, in fact, some economists (Thomas Piketty leaps to mind; his book on wealth is pretty amazing btw) think it's inevitable.
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