Should TNH Honor the Wealthiest Greek-Americans? (Click, read, and join the debate!)

From time to time, an issue emerges and inspires various minds to converge, often at odds with one another, to discuss it. Hopefully, collective enlightenment will result from such conversations. The Ancient Greeks did that in the Agora, the original marketplace of ideas, and we, their modern-day descendants, aspire to continue that tradition.
We (Diamataris and Scaros) rarely disagree with one another, but we think it is valuable to share our thoughts when we do, and invite you to share yours as well. We would never fabricate a difference of opinion for the sake of writing an interesting column. Rest assured, anything we write here are our sincere, heartfelt thoughts. We will share them with you every two weeks. We hope you enjoy them, and we look forward to your taking part in the discussion as well – by contributing letters to the editor in response, and/or commenting on our website:
Like many other publications, we at TNH publish a number of special issues throughout the year. We do so because a large segment of our readers are very interested about the subject matter. We do it because that way we are able to provide far more and in-depth information than we would have been otherwise able to convey.
And so for the past several years we have published a list of the 50th wealthiest Greek-Americans. It is one of the most popular issues. And it is an issue that many people keep as reference throughout the year and use as a tool of fund raising.
My friend and editor Dino (Constantinos E.) Scaros thinks that we ought to use our scarce resources differently. To showcase some folks more lofty than the ones who have managed to master the art of making money.
I wish we could do that too.
But let me tell you why I think the issue of the 50th wealthiest is so important: our community in the overall context of the general American mosaic is but a very small percentage. And as you know it takes a number of particular characteristics to form a community. It can be common background, traditions, language, religion, language, etc., and its own media.
It also needs to have some point of reference, a measure of itself, some idea of who we are, how close we are to each other, of how are we doing, and compared to other groups.
In addition, we need leaders and role models, and one type of those has been successful business people for the rest of us to try to emulate, to be proud of. After all, this is America – and that is really what it is all comes down to.
Frankly, most very rich people belong to an international elite quite removed from their origins. Some even ignore or even look down upon their own people. It could be because they remind them of their humble beginnings. Many times they embrace their heritage again only if and when they are either not that rich anymore or are rejected by their new friends, the jet-setters.
It is with these thoughts in mind that this year we removed a number of them from our list, Greeks in name only with no connection or participation in the life of the community.
Finally you might ask: how scientific is our survey, and what does it mean in practical terms?
It is not scientific. Many people hide their privately held companies very well from the eyes of the reporters, so we really cannot be entirely sure that we have covered everyone who might be eligible to be included. On the other hand, if their companies’ information is available, then it is easy to figure out their worth based on the number of shares they own. And there are folks who cooperate with us directly. In any case, we sincerely hope that we get it all quite right.
The last point is this: there are three people in this issue, three classmates from the same school of the area of Laconia, who immigrated to the USA and made it big: George Sakellaris (#13) Efstathios Valiotis, (#14) and Sotirios Vahaviolos PhD (#28).
Only in America, Dino

As usual, I agree with a great deal of what Antoni has to say. I think his decision to honor the 50 wealthiest Greeks in America is rooted in noble and worthy intentions, though I think the honor would be even more appropriate if the focus were a little different.
First, there is the category of wealth. Granted, many of the individuals on TNH’s list – perhaps even all of them – have made or maintained their fortunes through hard work, sacrifice, and risk. All very well may be people whose values and sense of integrity are commendable and worthy of emulation. On the other hand, if anyone reading this happened to be one of the winners in the recent lottery jackpot worth well over $600 million, that person would have made the list, too. In that case, would a fluke of good fortune really be worth honoring?
A comparatively more deserving group of honorees would be those Greeks who have made personal sacrifices for the greater good – helping their fellow men, women, and children in need, Greeks and non-Greeks alike. Let us consider two fictitious Greeks: Yianni and Eleni. Suppose that Yianni earns about $100 million per year, and has donated $100,000 to Greeks in the homeland who have fallen victim to the crisis. That sounds like an impressive sum, and is likely to earn Yianni recognition somewhere – perhaps a dinner in his honor, his picture in the newspaper, or at least, a plaque to praise his generous contribution. Is that really generous, however? Donating 1/10 of 1% of his income? That is .001.
Eleni, on the other hand, is retired and on a fixed pension, earning $20,000 per year. She sent a check for $200 to the same cause. A measly two hundred dollars might not seem like a big deal, but it is 1% of her annual income. That is .01, which means that Eleni sacrificed ten times as much, percentage-wise, as Yianni did. Of course, if Yianni donated to other worthy causes as well, that would be a different story. But assuming that those amounts represented the total sum of Yianni’s and Eleni’s donations for the year, then which one of them is the real hero worth honoring?
Beyond monetary sacrifices at whatever percentages, there are other aspects far more praiseworthy than how much money a person has been able to make, or keep. What about those Greek-American police officers and firefighters who put themselves at risk every day to save the lives of others? What about those who give up their own summer vacations to travel to other parts of the country, and the world, to help rebuild houses ravaged in natural disasters – such as earthquakes, tornados, and tsunamis – whose victims are now homeless and destitute? And what about those donated a kidney to a fellow human being in desperate need of one?
The ability to speculate whether a particular stock will rise, a particular business strategy will work, and a particular product will sell like hotcakes certainly requires a set of impressive skills. So does hitting a home run, singing a flawless high-C, or winning an Oscar.
But before we spend any more time honoring the Greek-Americans who have excelled in sports, entertainment, and the art of making money, let’s tip our hats – and teach our children to do the same – to the real heroes – the “Elenis” of this world.