Keeping Up with Frank

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? I Don't

February 11, 2020

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
I Don't.
Have Flashy Flunkeys Ev'rywhere?
I Don't.

-    Frank Sinatra “High Society”

Who wants to be a billionaire? I don’t.

Now, had you asked me that question 20 years ago, I might have answered differently. A lot has changed in my life the past two decades. Likewise, a lot has changed in the world.

I started seeing the world differently when I first discovered the joy of giving. I know it sounds cliche, but I can’t emphasize enough how satisfying the feeling one gets from helping others is. Like having children, it gave me a purpose in life. I have written often about this before (see: How to Live a Balanced Life: Part 5).

Additionally, I have given plenty of thought to the overall concept of wealth. My conclusion is that it’s 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. The way I see it, there is one indisputable and inescapable fact: 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 don’t need $1billion to live a fun and fulfilling life. I have occasionally suggested to my wealthy friends that they 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 don’t 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. I have always been a ‘free-enterpriser’, but recently it seems like capitalism has run amuck. 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 by central banks that have allowed those with more means than need to borrow money at zero cost and use that free money to buy up everything from real estate to the stock market (see: Dancing on the Precipice: 'Bankruptcy Happens Gradually, then Suddenly' and Gold: The Unfortunate Final Refuge). The end result is a wealth gap that is almost impossible to fathom. In 2017 , the top 1 percent of families in the United States made more than 25 times what families in the bottom 99 percent did, according to a paper from the 2017 Economic Policy Institute, the wealthiest one percent of American households own 40 percent of the country's wealth. And this data is three years old! With markets soaring, I suspect the gap will continue to widen (CBS This Morning). It’s shameful. And if shame is not enough, we should be afraid. 

Throughout history, when society gets this distorted, bad things tend to happen. See The French Revolution. While Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette threw endless lavish parties at Versailles, the citizens of Paris could barely afford to buy bread. Eventually, things boiled over and the bloodletting that ensued was long and fierce.

But to try and make any logical argument regarding inequality these days is near impossible. The vitriol between left and right and all the superfluous noise around the issue ensures nothing gets done to address the problem. The right argues that anything that even hints of addressing income inequality is socialism, which would sound the death knell for America. They have been quite successful at conflating, reductio ad absurdum, any policies that attempt to address the growing wealth gap with failed authoritarian regimes such as the one in Venezuela. They will never admit that there are successful countries in Europe that practice a more inclusive form of capitalism, nor that capitalism here has gone too far and might benefit with some adjustment.

Wait, you may ask, aren’t you a billionaire? For a number of years, the media has often referred to me as a billionaire in their headlines, regardless of the subject of the article. I guess it must sell more newspapers. I tried to correct that perception in a couple of interviews, to no avail. Recently, I even tweeted that I am NOT a billionaire, stating that I give my money away too quickly to ever be one. Don’t get me wrong, though. I know lots of billionaires that are great people and are doing a lot of good with their wealth. I just think that philosophically, a world with no billionaires would be a better place.

The issues around inequality have been occupying my mind more and more, lately. As such, I have decided to give up most of my business activities and focus even more of my life on philanthropy. I just stepped down from my chairman role at a gold mining company I co-founded and said as much in my statement. That was my last active business role. I reiterated that decision recently, when it was announced that Acceso (a non-profit initiative formerly known as the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership that I co-founded with President Clinton in 2007) would transition out of The Clinton Foundation into a new, independent entity to advance our work of lifting small producers out of poverty through market-driven social enterprise. This effort reflects my long-held belief that market-based solutions to poverty go a long way to making solutions sustainable and scalable.

I hope it’s clear that my concerns about a society in which wealth is unfairly skewed towards the ultra-rich are not at odds with my belief in market-based economies and the free enterprise system.

I have concluded that sometimes you have to tell yourself that enough is enough. I will continue to invest what I have, of course, and, if there is going to be a billionaire in my life, it will be my foundation. And don’t get me wrong, I live a very comfortable life and have benefited greatly from a free enterprise system. But it’s clear to me one does not need to be a billionaire to live a comfortable and beautiful life.

Please forward this to all billionaires you may know.

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