It was a cold, dismal winter day, so I went down to my local pub to meet with my buddy Dickie. He was at his usual bar stool, cold beer in hand, paying attention to nothing.
“So,” he said, “Awhile back, they ran a story saying that eight people on Earth have more money than the poorest 3.6 billion people. These eight people have something like $427 billion dollars.
"One of the guys, Warren Buffet, they figure, made about $36 billion a day last year.
"Then there was another story, this time about the lady who was running Yahoo, whom by all accounts didn’t do much good, is getting $56 million in severance pay, for doing nothing. So someone, somewhere, thought that this was a good arrangement to put in her contract.
"Your point being?” I queried.
“Well, my point is,” he continued, “that there is a lot of money floating around that I ain’t got. First, you gotta remember that a billion dollars has nine zeros, not including what comes after the decimal point. I could buy everyone in here a beer each, and make it one of those really tasty craft beers.
"Also, there are a shitload of really poor people out there. I’m guessing I’m not on the "world’s poorest” list, although it’s hard to say. All I know is I scrape by, but I’m doing better than the people they say we can feed on $1.80 a day in the ads at Christmas time.
“But the biggest thing I’m wondering is what these guys - mostly white guys - do with all of that money. Since I’m a concerned human, I’ve put myself in their really nice Italian leather shoes and have been wondering what they must do every day to get rid of that much money.”
“You are, in fact, a generous human,” I said. “What did you come up with?”
“Well, the way I figure it, when you’re filthy rich, you really have four main options that you can use the money for.
"One, you use it to help people you don’t know - the huddled masses.
"Two, you buy companies you don’t need and lead them by your divine guidance, because you’re so frickin’ smart.
"Three, you buy off politicians - or even become one- so you can make the world more like you want it to be, again because you’re so frickin’ smart.
"Or four, you just blow it on crap you don’t need, but that let’s everybody know how cool you are.”
“I suppose there are some other options,” I said, “but those sound pretty inclusive. So what is the problem?”
“Being a newly anointed rich guy - in my own mind - what I’ve discovered sitting here is that these poor rich mostly-white guys have a lot of problems.”
“Don’t let me stop you,” I offered, “I’m dying to know.”
“First, there’s helping people. The problem is that as a rich guy, I really don’t know any poor people, just like you don’t know any really rich people.”
“Hmmm. That happens to be correct. I know zero rich people. In fact, I don’t even know anyone who knows rich people.”
“Right. You essentially don’t exist to me, but if you wash my car, I’ll act like we’re buddies. But back to the problem. Since I don’t know any poor people, I’ve got to select from the poor people who don’t piss me off because they’re lazy, good-for-nothing, drug-taking, child-making, uneducated, fat slobs. That limits things, especially in the U.S. Plus I supposedly pay my taxes here, so that should help them out, even though I have enough deductions I really don’t pay taxes.
"So I have to look at some place like Africa, because they’re all poor there and I’ll look like a great philanthropist. The problem with that is that helping Africans is passe. It’s not trending. It’s been going on forever and nothing ever changes. So why in the hell would I dump money there? I’d be better off protecting elephants, hippos and giraffes.
"I get it,” I noted, “that it’s really hard to find a group to give your money to. How about inner-city kids, who haven’t really done anything wrong, but who are in the wrong place, wrong time? What about helping them with their education, or jobs in the future?”
“That’s a possibility. Maybe I’ll give a couple of million in one of those college-goal things, as long as they don’t join gangs, play rap music, or wear their pants below their butts.”
“You’re second choice, then, is buying other companies,” I intoned. “What is the problem there, Mr. rich white guy?”
“Business is a pain the ass. Due diligence. Strategic thinking. Synergistically coordinating your interventions. Lean, SMART, FIFO, CPU, ROA, IPA, EBIT, or ATC, which stands for All That Crap. Who wants it. I’m rich, what do I want to get into all that for? Plus, I’d only want to buy businesses that reflect my personal style.”
“I don’t really have one, but if I did it would include being a cynic, wearing old tee shirts, wrinkled jeans, bad baseball hats and good socks. I also like cold amber beers for $4, news without bias and commercials - although that doesn’t exist any more - and good homemade soup.”
“That’s not much of a list for investments,” I said. “You may be right. Maybe this being rich thing is harder than it looks. What about spending your money to remake the world in your image through politics. Surely there are people you can buy off whom reflect your distinct sensibilities.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. Politically, I pretty much hate both political parties. The Democrats are too whiny, they think I care about social issues and they actually want to me to pay taxes so they can give the money away. The Republicans are too cranky, with all of the tea party, religious right, gun-stuff.
"That means that if I’m going to buy somebody off, I have to find candidates who are independent but susceptible to bribery, moderate in their thinking, thoughtful about the actual issues and willing to compromise on solutions that help the country, not the party.”
“Which leads you to practically nobody.”
“Absolutely nobody. I can’t even find someone to buy off. There is absolutely no person in Washington who meets those requirements.”
“You could run yourself, like Mr. Trump….”
“Right. I’m going to spend my money and time in a 16 month election process, where I have to go on stage every day, whine about how terrible the world is, who’s fault it is, why I’m so great and what I’m going to do about everything, even though I haven’t got a clue. Then I get elected and at least half the people hate my guts and I’m forced to do a bunch of things I don’t care about, or want to get involved in.”
“Giving money to people who dropped out of school, broke laws, had kids they couldn’t afford, or did drugs. Acting like I care who marries whom. Simplifying tax codes that are a gazzillion pages long, with every loophole every created by humankind. Finding a way to pay for health care when nobody knows what service costs what amount. Finding the money to rebuild road and bridges without raising taxes. Figuring out who comes into the country, who goes. Keeping everyone safe from every whacko out there. The list goes on and on. Who wants it?”
“Rich white guy problems. Nobody you want to pay off. Too much trouble to fix things yourself. So that leaves us the last option, blowing it all on crap you don’t need.”
“Even that ain’t all that great,” he said. “First, I’ve got billions and I’m making more every day. I’d have to hire people to find a way to spend that much money. Second, I’ve got five houses in nice locations. I have a yacht or two. I’ve got my own plane. I’ve got a really nice set of golf clubs. My bathrooms are gold plated. I have towel heaters. I’ve got a waterfall and a changing house in my back yard. What else?”
“Trophy wife?” I asked. “Hair implants? Racing horses? Portrait of yourself? Slaves? Countries? Mani-pedi?”
“See that’s the problem. They’re all ok, but I really don’t care. What am I going to do with all that crap?”
“Well,” I concluded, “I see your point. Maybe being a rich white guy isn’t all that great. Or maybe you’re just the wrong choice to be a rich white guy.”
“Maybe that’s it.” he said, “Maybe normal guys just aren’t equipped to have all of that money. Or maybe nobody is.”