I read this blog post about megarich Silicon Valley veteran Tom Perkins today and then went over to 60 Minutes to see the segment for myself. In short, Perkins has a lot of rich guy stuff, including the world's biggest sailboat, and he likes to show it off. But he wouldn't tell 60 Minutes how much the yacht cost, because he's a little embarrassed by the fact that he's spending all this money on rich guy toys instead of using it to help others.
What I then found interesting was this comment at the WSJ blog about the story, partially quoted below:
But couldn't the same be said of the $50K that is so easily spent on a new car? Stopping at Starbucks before work each morning could easily cost $700 annually – a small indulgence by many standards, but is it necessary while hundreds die daily from? And what about the clothes we wear? Of course there is a need to be presentable and professional, but we often convince ourselves that we 'need' a new [insert what you currently want here], when we would really be fine without it. We, and I include myself here, are willing to spend to support a lifestyle that contains many nonessentials, all for the sake of appearance.
My point is not that I support an extraordinary ego, and the possessions necessary to support it. My point is that in reading about Mr. Perkins, I realized that I need to consider what I spend my salary on and consider the opportunity costs of my lifestyle.
Thinking about Perkins and the commenter's thoughts, the obvious question is, when do/should we feel obligated to help others financially, i.e., contribute a chunk of our money to charities? Many of us do this on a small scale, but at what point in the richness does it go from "nice to do" to a "responsibility"? I put those words in quotes because of course it's always nice to do and never a responsibility in absolute terms, but only in our opinions.
On one end, you can be all Ayn Rand-ish and say these people made tons of money through their own efforts and many other people also made a lot of money through their efforts via the creation of jobs, return on investments in Perkins' companies, etc., so there is no responsibility to use the money for anything other than what that person feels like using it on.
On the other end, people will say that once your basic needs are met (and maybe a few extravagances to celebrate your hard work and good fortune) the rest should be plowed into projects that change the world for the better.
I tend to think if I was rich I'd be on the low end of the extravagance scale, because I see money as a ticket to freedom more than a ticket to boats and cars. But at the same time I don't judge anyone else's desire to simply plow their money into monuments to their own greatness (although maybe my choice of words shows that I do judge it to some extent).
What do you think you would do if you were extremely wealthy, and do you think the richest among us have an obligation to use their money to help others?
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