The Billionaire Problem

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4 years 5 months
Submitted by SuperSayu on Mon, 02/15/2016 - 19:24

I sometimes spend my time thinking what I would do if I had money. Honestly, I wish I could talk to a billionaire; not to ask or beg for money, but just to talk. Because I have a strange sense, like if I were talking to a billionaire, it would still be a hypothetical question: "What would you do if you had a billion dollars?" Somehow it doesn't feel like billionaires act like billionaires. It doesn't feel like they have that money.

In a way, they probably don't. A lot of people on the billionaires list--maybe all of them, but probably not--have a value in the billions but cash-on-hand is a lot less. Recently Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook and worth over $35B, promised to give away his fortunes--but right now his fortune is mostly stock. In a world of literal paper money, which is then transferred into virtual paper money on a bank statement, stock value is not even that, it's a promise that virtual paper stock can become virtual paper money that is equal to real paper money which is then worth what it says on the piece of paper.

That's kind of a digression.

I suppose billionaires usually don't, and probably can't, transfer all their worth into money, because that would mean selling all their stocks which would affect, honestly, global economics in one swift move. If Zuckerberg liquidated $35B of stock into cash tomorrow, everyone in and out of Silicon Valley would wonder whether he did it because Facebook has some dirty secret about to consume it, the stock value would tank, meanwhile ownership of the company would change hands because he can no longer lead the board with no stock. So whoever next chairs the board of Facebook would have to address a sudden and complete loss of faith in the company. Other stock market magnates have the same problem.

Honestly, that's got to be frustrating. I can imagine talking to some of the richest people in the world, on paper, and asking them "What would you do with a billion dollars, cash?" And I can imagine that they would have to stop and think about it, because for the most part that's not their life. That said, some companies have enormous chunks of cash-on-hand (I am looking at you, Apple) although some of that is kept overseas because they would be upset if the money they are doing absolutely nothing with was taxed and turned into useful public assets that improved the world they live in.

Err. Digressing again. Sorry.

It's interesting to me to think of what I would do with money because for the most part money enables interesting changes. I look at the world around me and see so many things that could use changing; one imagines that from the point of view of a billionaire you see the world as something you can easily change, but if they can't turn net worth into paper money, maybe they feel trapped as well. It would be an interesting thing to talk to someone about, although I imagine they probably have better things to do than talk to me about it.

But the other side of being wealthy is that you get to choose where you live, which for example I cannot right now. Part of why it's interesting to think about changing the world is that Honesdale is such a poor town. If I take a walk in any direction from my apartment, I will run into condemned houses that have been shuttered for I know not how long. If I had, let's say, a million to play with, I'd pick my favorite lot, snap it up, clear the condemned building, and make a house on it. They're small lots, but act cleverly and you can work around that.

Granted, if I had a million dollars, I wouldn't have to stay where I am; my options would be expanded. Granted, if I had a million dollars, I could start a business with it, which is actually one of my goals, and if I did that, I wouldn't want to waste money on something frivolous like a house. Granted, if I had a million dollars, I should repay my dad for all the money he's put into my life to help me towards my future. Granted all those things, the mental exercise is interesting. I look around and see something that could be better and I wonder what I would do if I just had enough money to fix it. The only reason I think about those lots is because I live here and see nothing happening to them. I think of them because they really are just there. I think about them because they are kind of a blight, and they could be something interesting, beautiful, amazing, fun. I think about them because somewhere deep inside I want to be the sort of person who makes the world more interesting.

And that's an attitude that I wonder if rich people have. I wonder if billionaires ever have days where they walk through a poor neighborhood and consider what it would cost to renovate this-or-that house into a home. I wonder if they wander through a poor town and think about what money would need to be put into the town to reinvigorate it. I wonder if they engage in these mental exercises, but more than that, I think it would be interesting to actually pose them to rich people, make them think. They don't have to turn around and benefit me, or this place, but it'd be interesting to see how they respond, what they think. It could be that many of them are just so busy, or in other ways not interesting, or jerks. It could be that some of them are really losers who would never think to help people. But you don't know until you ask, and I wonder what they'd say, what they'd do.