The Difference between Affluent, Rich, and Super-Rich

One of the best things I’ve read this week is Ben Casnocha’s blog post titled “The Goldilocks Theory of Being Rich” on what it means to be rich. In the post, Ben correctly posits that today there’s a very small difference between the rich and the American middle class in terms of quality of life. In the post, Ben differentiates among affluent, rich, and the super-rich…

The actual best part about being super rich, as far as I can tell, is this: You’re more likely to feel like you led a life of meaning. You might not be happy all the time or most of the time, but you will feel like your time on this earth counted for something. One way to distinguish happiness from meaning is that happiness is the day to day bounce of emotions while meaning is what you feel when you step back, take a minute, and reflect on what will go in your obituary. (Here’s my post on meaning vs. happiness.)

How so? The feeling of meaning and making a difference manifests in real, concrete ways. Someone like Meg Whitman can walk the HP campus and see thousands of employees who support their families thanks to employment at HP; she can read stories about the millions of people who use HP products every day to be better at their job. That imbues her life with a sense that her life matters. If you don’t have a corporate campus to walk around—if, for example, you’re an options trader and not a builder of things—fear not. With a supple bank account, you can still take actions that generate meaning. Write big checks to charity and you’ll get thank you notes from the children at the public school you helped. You’ll get enough feel-good ooze from your charitable giving to last you a lifetime. Entrepreneur and billionaire Marc Benioff has said, “Nothing is going to make you feel better. Philanthropy is absolutely the best drug I’ve ever taken.”

I liked this analogy posited by Tim O’Reilly:

…money is like gasoline while driving. You never want to run out, but the point of life is not to go on a tour of gas stations.

The distinction between affluent, rich, and super-rich:

Maybe wealth needs its own Goldilocks porridge story: you want not too much, not too little. And I think that ideal middle ground is the “Rich” category in the hierarchy I opened with. More crudely, this ideal amount of money is termed “fuck-you money.” With fuck you money, you can’t fly around the world on a private jet (so you’re not as rich as the Super Rich) but do you have the power to say fuck you to essentially anyone or anything that doesn’t interest you (which means you’re richer than the merely affluent).

Put another way, if you work on stuff that doesn’t excite you for more than one day a week, in my estimation you do not have fuck-you money. You’re still working for the man. At the other end of the spectrum, if you find yourself being invited to more than a few charity galas a year, worrying about physical and cyber security at your home, and asking a PR person to review your public statements, you have a lot more than fuck-you money and all the corresponding drawbacks.

Definitely worth reading this thought-provoking post in its entirety.

Pablo Picasso’s Multi-Billion Dollar Empire

I enjoyed this piece in Vanity Fair on Pablo Picasso’s multi-billion dollar empire.

Picasso did not leave a will. The division of his holdings took six years, with often bitter negotiations among the heirs. (There were seven then.) The settlement cost $30 million and produced what has been described as a saga worthy of Balzac. The family, writer Deborah Trustman noted at the time, “resembles one of Picasso’s Cubist constructions—wives, mistresses, legitimate and illegitimate children (his youngest born 28 years after his oldest), and grandchildren—all strung on an axis like the backbone of a figure with unmatched parts.”

It is unbelievable how prolific Picasso was:

When Picasso died, 43 years ago at the age of 91, he left an astounding number of works—more than 45,000 in all. (“We’d have to rent the Empire State Building to house all the works,” Claude Picasso said when the inventory was completed.) There were 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 7,089 drawings, 30,000 prints, 150 sketchbooks, and 3,222 ceramic works.

Much more here.

On the Wealth Disparity in Russia

The Wall Street Journal highlights the incredible wealth disparity in Russia:

In the days of the Soviet Union, the country boasted that all its citizens shared the wealth equally, but a new report has found that a mere 20 years after the end of Communism, wealth disparity has soared with 35% of the country’s entire wealth now in the hands of just 110 people.

This is a wild statistic:

The study discovered that in Russia there is one billionaire for every $11 billion in household wealth. In the rest of the world, there is one for every $170 billion.

And so is this comparison with the United States:

Overall, 93.7% of Russia’s adult population has less than $10,000 in wealth, according to the report; 5.6% has between $10,000 and $100,000; 0.6% has between $100,000 and $1 million; and 0.1% — or about 84,000 people — has over $1 million. In the U.S., according to the report, 30.7% of the adult population has less than $10,000; 33% has between $10,000 and $100,000; 30.7% has between $100,000 and $1 million; and 5.5% — or 1.3 million people — has over $1 million.

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(hat tip: Annie Lowrey)

Is Vladimir Putin the Richest Man on Earth?

An interesting report at Bloomberg on the wealth that Vladimir Putin has accumulated via his stakes in Russian companies like Gazprom and Surgutneftegaz:

The media reports, which often cite one another, ultimately tend to rely on one primary source: a November 2007 interview given by a prominent member of Moscow’s chattering classes, Stanislav Belkovsky, to the German daily Die Welt. In the interview, he claimed that Putin “controlled” 37 percent of the oil company Surgutneftegaz and 4.5 percent of natural gas monopoly Gazprom. The $40 billion estimate of Putin’s fortune was simply the 2007 market price of these stakes.

“And these numbers are substantiated?” Die Welt journalist Manfred Quiring asked. “These numbers are correct,” Belkovsky replied, and that was that.

Interviewers regularly ask Belkovsky about the $40 billion number. “That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of $60-70 billion,” Belkovsky told Maeve McClenaghan of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

There has never been the slightest bit of evidence that Putin actually owns stakes in Surgutneftegaz or Gazprom. The Western journalists using Belkovsky as a source either do not know who he is or print his allegations simply because they are colorful. “What game Mr. Belkovsky is playing — and on whose behalf — is unclear,” the Telegraph of London warned in a story copiously citing Belkovsky’s allegations.

If the upper tier estimates are true, then Vladimir Putin may be as rich (or even richer) than Bill Gates, whose estimated worth is around $70 billion.

Success Cannot be Measured

Success is the strength of your heart, the power of your mind and giving of your soul.

This is a great post by Ketan Anjaria who claims that success, like other intangibles in life such as love, can’t be measured:

Real success isn’t measured by how many cars you own, how hot your startup is, or even how amazing you are at yoga.

Real success can’t be measured, just like happiness or love can’t be measured.

If you are trying to apply a metric to your success you have failed to realize one the most beautiful reasons we are on this earth.

Success to me is what you make. What you give to the world. That your thoughts, and actions and time go to building something that works for others.

We could all this reminder every once in a while.

Warren Buffett: Women are Key To America’s Future Prosperity

Warren Buffett joined Twitter today. To coincide with that move, he also penned a piece in CNN/Fortune, in which he explains how women are key to America’s prosperity:

Start with the fact that our country’s progress since 1776 has been mind-blowing, like nothing the world has ever seen. Our secret sauce has been a political and economic system that unleashes human potential to an extraordinary degree. As a result Americans today enjoy an abundance of goods and services that no one could have dreamed of just a few centuries ago.

But that’s not the half of it — or, rather, it’s just about the half of it. America has forged this success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent. For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the sidelines. Only in recent years have we begun to correct that problem.

Despite the inspiring “all men are created equal” assertion in the Declaration of Independence, male supremacy quickly became enshrined in the Constitution. In Article II, dealing with the presidency, the 39 delegates who signed the document — all men, naturally — repeatedly used male pronouns. In poker, they call that a “tell.”

Finally, 133 years later, in 1920, the U.S. softened its discrimination against women via the 19th Amendment, which gave them the right to vote. But that law scarcely budged attitudes and behaviors. In its wake, 33 men rose to the Supreme Court before Sandra Day O’Connor made the grade — 61 years after the amendment was ratified. For those of you who like numbers, the odds against that procession of males occurring by chance are more than 8 billion to one.

I couldn’t agree more. Go Warren go!

A Fortune for No One

The New York Times profiles the story of Roman Blum, a Holocaust survivor who died last year but left no will. He had a fortune of more than $40 million, the largest unclaimed estate in the history of New York state:

Much about Mr. Blum’s life was shrouded in mystery: He always claimed he was from Warsaw, although many who knew him said he actually came from Chelm, in southeast Poland. Several people close to Mr. Blum said that before World War II, in Poland, he had a wife and child who perished in the Holocaust, though Mr. Blum seems never to have talked of them, and the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, has no record of them in its database. Even his birth date is in question. Records here give it as Sept. 16, 1914; identity cards from a German displaced persons camp have it as Sept. 15.

But perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding Mr. Blum is why a successful developer, who built hundreds of houses around Staten Island and left behind an estate valued at almost $40 million, would die without a will.

Read the rest.