05 July 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


The Unambitious Billionaire

Warren Buffett just promised to give 37 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I'm so disappointed.  Here we have the second richest person on the planet, a man who made this fortune pretty much by himself, and who benefited thousands of others along the way.  He is by all accounts smart and sagacious.  He claims to be in good health and there's no reason to doubt it.  And he has $44,000,000,000 to call his own.  Where is his ambition? 

And for that matter, where is that of Larry Ellison of Oracle, and maybe even that of Bill Gates?  Ellison was about to give a hundred million dollars to Harvard, and may yet, although he seems to be waffling because his buddy the ex-president of Harvard is now ex.  And Bill.  And I suppose, Melinda.  And none of these people got rich overnight.  They've had plenty of time to think about what they want to do with their money.

It is the enormous blessing of our capitalist system that this kind of wealth can be accumulated by individuals.  $44*10^9 is about the same as the GDP of Serbia and Montenegro, #80 on the list by the IMF.  (Not that I think that Buffett put them up to it, but Montenegro just split from the union, which would put them both lower on the list.)  Unlike the 179 governments on the list, or the almost 100 countries whose GDP is less than Buffett's cash value, he isn't beholden to the masses.  If a million farmers drive their tractors (OK, drive in hopelessly overloaded busses or just walk) up to his doorstep, he doesn't have to worry about being pitchforked to death unless he institutes reforms.  And they can't belabor him anyway, because he (and we, unless he's bought them) have these oceans to stop them.  So what does he do with this fabulous, almost incomprehensible although, thanks to the beauty of mathematics, easily expressible wealth?  He gives it away!

Warren!  Dude! 

When you were growing up, didn't you have any boy dreams?  Didn't you want to rule the world?  Own a rocketship?  Discover the meaning of everything?  (There are plenty of other dreams I'm sure we boy people had that I elide in the name of decency, although  as I mentioned, you claim to be in good health.)  You can realize these dreams!  You are not a government.  You are not responsible to your constituents, except, I suppose to be sure not to sell all your stock at one time.  So be careful there.  But otherwise, you can do anything!  Well, almost anythingit's probably too late to achieve immortality by living forever rather than through your works.  Want to reopen the tunnel in Waxahachie and finish the Superconducting Super Collider?  You can do it!  With change left over for your own space program. 

Paul Allen seems to have a bit of the right idea.  He's buying himself some fine entertainment with his fortune.  How about John Templeton?  Whether you think his goal is silly or realistic, you've got to admit it's different, and he's having some fun.   According to his biography, he gives away about $40 million a year.  Ummm - that's only "million."  And John Lazaridis, the BlackBerry guy, founded the Perimeter Institute,  Something he was personally interested in doing.  And Elon Musk does have his own space program.  Warren:  Of course it's none of my business what you decide to do with all those billions.  And, again thanks to our system, it's nobody else's, either.  I like science stuff, and if you by some chance change your mind and want to let me manage the money instead of having Bill's foundation take care of it, you have my assurance that, other than skimming off enough to maybe keep my pool a little warmer, I'll put it to what I consider good, non-selfish use.

I know one reason you gave it to Bill's foundation is that, well, he already had a foundation and you didn't.  Good grief!  That's his foundation - shouldn't you have your own?  Shouldn't you turn your dreams into reality?

And You Other Billionaires...

Not every dream costs many billion dollars!  Look at the Ansari "X Prize."  Leverage!  I'm sure many of you have dreams.  I'm sure most of you worked really hard, and have been really lucky.  Maybe you can translate that into something you've always wanted.  There are any number of charities, diseases, and "causes" out there.  Most of us are forced to support them out of practicality.  But you are entitled to your own!  Can we please have a little creativity and, yes, eccentricity, out there? 

Richard Factor