"Recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck—and with luck comes obligation," he wrote. "You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky."
President Barack Obama reignited the debate during the election campaign with the "you didn't build that" line. Many said it was taken out of context—he was talking about roads and bridges and public schools—but it still hit a nerve. And it fueled the battle over the wealthy paying their "fair share" in taxes.
But what about the wealthy themselves? A study from Spectrem Group, the wealth research firm, shows that while some of the wealthy say luck played a role in their success, many say hard work, education and risk-taking played a much bigger role.
(Read More: Top 1 Percent Control 39 Percent of World's Wealth)
Among people worth $5 million or more, more than 98 percent cited hard work as a "wealth creation factor." More than 90 percent cited education, followed by "smart investing," "frugality" and then "taking risk."
Slightly more than half of those surveyed cited "being at the right place at the right time" as a factor in their success—ranking it far below hard work and education.
Among business owners, however, the number of self-described "lucky wealthy" is much higher: 79 percent of them cited "being at the right place at the right time" as a factor in their success. Fully 68 percent of business owners cited "luck" as a factor.
(Read More: We're Rich Again! We Just Can't Feel It)
Among corporate executives, 64 percent cited "being at the right place and right time" as a factor in their success while half cited "luck."
So are the wealthy downplaying luck or is wealth truly self-made?
"One way to interpret the data is that it's a balance," said George Walper of Spectrem Group. "Some acknowledge that their success is partly based on luck. But some people don't. And maybe ego plays a role among the people who may understate the effects of luck."