I hear Bill Gates lost $18 billion in the recent crisis. Warren Buffett is down $25 billion. Over 300 of the world's billionaires slipped off the list entirely and are now merely multi-millionaires.
I'm all choked up about it.
Oh, the poor, poor billionaires. Shall we take up a collection? Bill Gates is down to his last $40 billion. Boo hoo. Maybe a little tax cut will cheer him up.
To hell with them all.
First, all their so-called losses are only on paper. That hill of paper once "worth" $60 billion is now "worth" only 40. Too bad. That's supposed to happen sometimes in the market that these folks say they love so much.
Second, these numbers get tossed around so much, a billion here, a trillion there, we forget they have real meaning. Here's a little perspective:
Let's say, on the day you were born, you inherited $1 billion. That's $1,000,000,000. Looks pretty good to see all those zeros, huh? To continue, let's further assume that you will never acquire another penny in your life. Not too likely, I know. After that first billion, I hear the rest is gravy. $1 billion at one percent interest for one year will net you around $10 million easy. But let's keep things simple.
We'll let you live to be 100, a generous estimate, but people do actually live to be 100. Besides, this will keep those numbers nice and round. In 100 years, we'll allow for 25 leap years. So you will live exactly 36,525 days. Not bad.
OK, before we do some real figuring, you could say this: if you spent $1 million every year of your life, you'd have $900 million left to bequeath to your descendants, if any. Pretty good.
But let's say you really want to spend it all, every penny. How would that break down? Well, if you wanted to spend $1 billion in exactly 36,525 days, you would need to spend $27,378.51 each day of your life. Every. Single. Day. That's a lot of polo ponies.
Now imagine 20 times that. Now 40.
Let's leave aside, for the moment, that most of the super-rich get that way and stay that way through what amounts to legalized theft. A paltry million can buy a lot of good government these days. Let's leave aside the corporate and personal shell-games open to these folks: those Swiss bank accounts and the like. Let's forget all those bailouts that helped protect their "investments." Let's even forget that a quarter of the world's population, 1.4 billion people (there's that number again), live below the international poverty line of $1.25/day.
Actually, let's remember that last point.
Remind me again why these folks shouldn't pay some serious taxes. What if we taxed these people right down to their last couple billion. What would happen? Why, poor, poor Bill Gates would have to live like Paul McCartney. How tragic. Boo hoo.
So the next time you see that pesky $1 billion, remember: $27,000 every day for 100 years. That's how much $1 billion is.
Very Truly Yours,