Could There Be a 21st Century Gatsby?

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The cinematography in Baz Luhrmann’s new film version of "The Great Gatsby" portrays the Jazz Age as full of lavish excess and glitz probably not even dreamed of in 1922, the year F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story takes place.

Flaunting the wealth of Jay Gatsby is the movie’s focal point of extreme gluttony: Gatsby’s weekend parties feature more bling than Jay-Z. The source of his wealth, however, is somewhat mysterious: The phone rings constantly throughout the film, with calls identified only as “Chicago” or “Philadelphia.”

“He owned some drug-stores, a lot of drug-stores,” according to Gatsby’s lost love, Daisy. Connections to the man who fixed the 1919 World Series and bootleggers are alluded to.

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Could such a mysteriously wealthy person exist today, apart from fiction? Or would his wealth be outed as fast as Tom Buchanan could log on to Twitter?

It’s plausible, said Michael Rubin, author of "Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck: A Conversation About Income, Wealth, and the Steps in Between."

“You could start a company that’s not worth anything more than $100 and seven years later it’s worth $50 million, and only you and your shareholders know it,” Rubin said.

There’s no wealth tax in the United States, Rubin points out, so legally accumulating a great deal of wealth and keeping it relatively secret is not uncommon.