Meet your friendly neighborhood billionaire. He is a 63-year-old married guy. He has got just over $3 billion in the bank, including $600 million in cash. He made his own money on Wall Street. He loves sports. That is the basic composite the World’s 2,325 billionaires, the 0.00003% lives.
And they live very, very well.
Their ranks are growing, their fortunes swelling. They now control about 4% of the World’s wealth. That’s $7.3 trillion, enough to take Apple private twelve times over, or pay off the entirety of the United States’ debt to China.
Our average American billionaire made the bulk of his money in his 40s and 50s in finance. About half of his money is in private investments, like equity in his own firm. He keeps about 20% in cash, and a delicious 5% in real estate and luxury assets, presumably jaguars and yachts. He owns four houses, each worth about $20 million.
His wealth has grown in the past year, but he has not beaten the overall market, because he holds so much cash. His apparent safety of cash was reinforced by the painful psychological experience of the 2008/09 financial crisis and the subsequent troubles within the European Monetary Union.
When not toiling in the mines, our billionaire loves hobnobbing with other billionaires. Generally speaking, billionaires form bonds and relationships with individuals who share their interests and abilities.
Billionaires care nothing for the nation-state. They live in megacities like New York, Hong Kong, and London, hopscotching from city to city, not country to country. When they get together, they love watching athletic competitions, particularly of the country-club sort. The Masters, the America’s Cup, and the Kentucky Derby, along with Davos and the World’s various biennales.
As a New Yorker, our billionaire probably also supports the arts. If he lived in Los Angeles or Lagos, he would be into aviation. If he lived in Geneva, he would love yachting and sailing.
He is a philanthropic guy, but less so than you might think. Over his lifetime, he will probably give away a hundred million, but that is just pennies on his many dollars. Where will the money go? Billionaires love giving away money to schools, with one in three naming education as their top philanthropic cause.
But he is starting to think about what he is going to do with his billions, having spent decades amassing them. Our rich guy – like so many rich guys – will be eligible for retirement soon. He might have started bequeathing his assets to his children and grandchildren, helping to kick of an enormous intergenerational transfer of wealth.
It is a pretty pointless exercise if accumulating wealth is your primary goal in life. Sadly, that seems to be the case with far too many people these days.
We are all going to die.
Spending your life chasing excessive wealth as your sole aim achieves absolutely nothing at the end of the day. Besides, you do not need $1billion to live a fun and fulfilling life.
Try a little exercise to put things in perspective: Pretend you have $1billion and then try to spend it in your mind. Buy a mansion. A second, third and fourth home. Buy a private jet, a yacht, jewelry and fine art. Put a pile aside in a trust for your kids so they do not ever have to work. Add it all up and you will be surprised by the staggering amount left over.
Your self-fulfilment is one thing, but there is a broader argument against excessive wealth. As the gap between rich and poor widens, inequality threatens the core values of our society. What we are seeing today is tragic and dangerous for our social fabric.
Capitalism has become stuck.
What is happening today is an unjustifiable transfer of wealth that has little to do with brilliance, productivity, or hard work. Most of the wealth that has been created in the last 20 years is a function of absurd monetary policy that have allowed billionaires to borrow money at zero cost and use that money to buy up everything from real estate to the stock market.
It is shameful. And if shame is not enough, we should be afraid.