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Shell Shocked: So you want to be a billionaire

By Staff | Jun 24, 2015

So you want to be a billionaire? You can’t win a billion dollars from lottery drawings, horse races, raffle tickets or even robbing a bank. If having a billion dollars is your life’s dream, you either have to earn it in a far different way or inherit it. This is what $50 billion looks like on paper: $50,000,000,000. That’s 10 zeros. Just writing that number out takes up almost half a line. Could you personally live with all those zeros?

I wonder what it’s like being a billionaire. I’m not anywhere close to being one. Billionaires are treated with respect and reverence by the rest of us. It’s an achievement that too few of us will experience in our lifetime. But there’s a tremendous burden that comes with all those zeros. As a billionaire you’re often responsible for the lives and fates of millions of people. It’s like being King Arthur and ruling over Camelot.

Do billionaires do the same things other mortals do like go to the movies, eat popcorn, grab a hamburger at McDonald’s, ride on a commuter train, shop at Publix, go on roller coaster rides, hunt for bargains, sit in the grandstands or fly fish?

I don’t know any billionaires up close and personal. But, I can’t imagine Donald Trump ever riding in a New York City taxi. He probably doesn’t even own credit cards because since he owns every hotel in the world and all his meals are on the house.

Can you imagine Bill Gates getting on a public transit bus and fishing around in his pockets for the exact change? He would get frustrated and ask the driver if he had change for a million dollar bill.

I get a kick out of reading the Forbes Magazine annual list of the richest men in the world. Each billionaire has so many zeros attached to his wealth that writing a check for a billion dollars requires an extra small handwriting. Do you start out in life wanting to become a billionaire? Wouldn’t you have to get an early sense of the value of money? As a child, do future billionaires look around and simply say, “I like this town. One day I’d like to own it”?

Think of mass wealth this way. If you beat the trillion to one odds in winning a super power lottery drawing, you could win around $500 million. Five-hundred million dollars is pocket change for most billionaires. It wouldn’t even buy you a single railroad, or oil refinery, or technology company that many tycoons own. It wouldn’t even buy you the state of Rhode Island, as small as it is.

If you’re a billionaire there’s very little you can’t own or buy, even some small countries. A former founder of Microsoft now owns an NBA team. Personally, I wouldn’t want the headaches that go with trying to handle super star athletes who are merely multi-millionaires and have a long way to go to reach the rarefied air of being in the billionaire club. But, the billionaire owner of this NBA team at least knows he’s got a ringside seat to every game. He also has ownership of all the other ringside seats, the concession stands, the players, the stadium, the entire downtown business district, and all the cargo ships in the water.

How does one train to live like a billionaire? Some are very down to earth and drive around in fleets of Cadillacs. Others, spend like crazy and buy things the rest of us can’t afford like original Monets, Picassos, van Goghs, and Rembrandts. They can outbid everyone else at auctions by merely raising an eyebrow.

Billionaires don’t live in the same communities as the rest of us. They live in security proof estate-fortresses with huge staffs. Even the proprietors of Downton Abbey weren’t as rich as John D. Rockefeller or J. P. Morgan.

Most of us don’t really want to share with others what our net worths are. But, billionaires don’t seem to care. Once you become a billionaire by passing the 900 million mark a bell goes off at the editorial offices of Forbes Magazine. Stop the presses. We’ve got a new member. He’s a California surfer who developed a new internet software program in his basement while attending Malibu High.

He recently sold his startup company to Apple for 20 billion dollars. When asked what he will do with his newfound wealth, he scratched his five-day old beard and mused “I’m finally going to get to visit Disneyworld.” Such ambition.

Now mind you, I’m not jealous that a select few have been chosen to be among the world’s billionaires. Some have inherited that wealth by merely being part of a family that owns oil wells. While others have climbed the billionaire ladder by a new discovery that changes the world, like a new beer can opener.

After all, we all start life the same way crying through our gums and wetting our diapers. After that, it’s every person for himself. It all depends on which fork in the road you take. The left fork takes you into the post office where you will sell postage stamps to the needy for all of your working life. And, the left fork takes you to a garage where you learn how to use a computer and inadvertently invent a new way of selling cottage cheese on the internet. In the first instance, you will get a pension for the rest of your life once you retire from the post office. In the second instance, you get to choose which professional sports team you want to own.

The moral is that with a bit of luck and a billionaire father every one of us could become a billionaire. What stops us is the realization that Howard Hughes was a billionaire and he wound up becoming a recluse and growing long toe and finger nails. If that’s the price one has to pay to acquire billions of dollars then I’ll be perfectly satisfied with just being a multi-millionaire.

-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.