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When are you Seriously Rich?

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Andrew
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When are you Seriously Rich?  Reply with quote  

In an age of Rich Lists, what exactly do we mean by rich? In current English usage, it's not enough to say someone is rich; he must be "seriously rich." But what constitutes serious wealth? One magnate I know lays it down thus: "If you know exactly how much you are worth, you're not seriously rich." I've heard figures like $100 million mentioned ($50 million is too low, they say). The ancients had a phrase, "as rich as Croesus." Croesus was King of Lydia, whence came the metal mixture electrum used for the first Greek coinages, and his wealth was measured by his generous donations to religious shrines. Another billionaire of antiquity, Herod the Great, astounded his contemporaries by the huge public works programs he financed from his private resources. He was an important figure in the social security programs for which Jewish communities--making up about 10% of the Roman Empire's population at that time--were famous.


Conspicuous Largesse


The richest individuals tend to become identified as such by their conspicuous donations. Andrew Carnegie, who sold out his steelinterests to the conglomerate that became U.S. Steel Corp. in the early 20th century, was probably the richest man of his time, in cash terms. He held that, while it was legitimate to accumulate a vast fortune, a "man who dies rich dies disgraced." Carnegie gave most of his fortune away--more than $350 million in his lifetime--and the list of his donations (including 7,689 church organs and 2,811 publiclibrary buildings) fills a sizable book. The late John Paul Getty was called "Britain's richest man," largely because his gifts to art galleries and other public institutions were so munificent. But some rich-watchers argue that the most "seriously rich" are those who keep low profiles, give nothing away and lead quiet lives well away from the media. These rich would regard appearing on any rich list as a failure.

My experience is that the rich themselves are extremely interested (and competitive) about wealth totals. Purportedly, when John D. Rockefeller, certainly the richest man of his day, read in the papers that J. Pierpont Morgan had left an estate of $100 million, barely enough to cover the benefactions of his will, he exclaimed, "Well, and to think that Mr. Morgan was not even a wealthy man!"


Only the wisest tycoons are noncompetitive; most compete in ways that have varied over the centuries. Among 15th-century Florentine bankers, there was rivalry over the splendor of the altarpieces they commissioned for their private chapels. Angelo Tani engaged Hans Memling to paint a magnificent "Last Judgment," now the pride of the National Museum in Gdansk, Poland. Tani's rival, Tommaso Portinari, commissioned Hugo van der Goes to paint an even more elaborate "Adoration of the Shepherds," a triptych which, when fully unfolded, is nearly 30 feet wide. It required 16 porters to carry it across Florence, as the citizens, who were very interested in comparative wealth, carefully noted.


Conspicuous Consumption


Today, in terms of London or Parisian splendor, a magnate who has $300 million to his name can comfortably be considered among the superrich and can conduct himself accordingly. But if he wishes to occupy such a position among the financial elite of New York or Palm Beach, he must have at least $1 billion. This, it is said, is the reason media titan Conrad Black had to go to such lengths to finance his lifestyle from the funds of his business.


The tenets of conspicuous consumption require not only that the rich person be conscious or hyperconscious of wealth but also that others recognize his ability to spend lavishly. The Greek shipping king Aristotle Onassis, it is said, married Jackie Kennedy as an act of conspicuous consumption. I've also heard that when entertaining a journalist aboard his yacht, Christina, Onassis liked to plunk down a huge pot of caviar and encourage the journalist to eat it by the spoonful. "Don't stint yourself," he'd say, "I can afford it."


But none of this answers the question, "When is a person rich?" In Jane Austen's day--when society was as upwardly mobile (and just as watchful for signs of wealth) as it is today--a tradesman's success was reached when he "set up his carriage," something requiring a stable, horses, a coachman, grooms and the vehicle itself. This act marked the point at which a family changed class in a decisive way. An important part of the plot of Emma hinges on news of the decision by Mr. Perry, a local man of business who is rising into gentility, to take this financial step, with its profound social implications. In Austen's day there were a number of such manifest indicators. To be considered seriously rich, one had to have an income of £10,000 a year. This was Mr. Darcy's position in Pride and Prejudice. In comparison, Mr. Bingley, who was merely rich, had £4,000 or £5,000 a year.


There are no such clear markers nowadays. Nor are possessions certain indicators. In the heyday of the Mellons, it wasn't enough to have a painting by Titian--you had to possess a Giorgione (much rarer). Today a seriously rich man must own a Van Gogh, a Cézanne or, at the very least, an "early" Picasso.


My idea of being rich--or at least of feeling rich--is to have no debts, mortgage or overdraft and to be able to pay all bills by return post. This may seem a fairly modest ambition, but if everyone in the West were in this position our societies would indeed merit the term "affluent," and the world would be a much happier place.


Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author, Lee Kuan Yew, minister mentor, Singapore; and Ernesto Zedillo, director, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, former president of Mexico; in addition to Forbes Chairman Caspar W. Weinberger, rotate in writing this column. To see past Current Events columns, visit our Web site at www.forbes.com/currentevents


Last edited by Andrew on Tue Dec 07, 2004 4:58 am; edited 1 time in total
Post Thu Sep 30, 2004 4:30 pm
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xboxundone
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I think i am Rich because i am blessed with a great wife and a good job..... And every day i become richer because i appreciate things more along with my gain in wealth from working Smile.

Post Thu Sep 30, 2004 4:35 pm
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Andrew
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That's a great attitude to have.

I don't think a lot of money would make me happier per se, but it would allow me to spend more time with my family, which would truely make me richer.
Post Thu Sep 30, 2004 4:40 pm
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UnXpected
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I think when you can really enjoy your free time & holiday. Then you are somehow rich Smile .

What the point of having lot of $$$ but no time .

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Post Fri Oct 01, 2004 12:11 am
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Andrew
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In that sense, it's true that...

TIME = MONEY

because your extra money can buy the time to spend as you choose.
Post Fri Oct 01, 2004 7:38 pm
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xboxundone
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Time is money in full form. Your time spent working = money... Time spent buying goodies means money out... unfortunately or fortunately everything boils down to money.

Post Sun Oct 03, 2004 9:00 pm
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nayslayer99
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I agree that Time = Money. With enough money you can buy more time to do the things you want to do. Most of my time is now spent with my family thanks to the money being generated for us in PIPS. I can't tell you how much it pleases me to have the freedom to choose what I want to do each and everyday with my family. I have two young children and a great wife. Getting to stay home and watch my children grow up is a gift that can't be replaced. I encourage anyone who wants to buy more time in their life to check out PIPS for themselves.

William Smile
Post Tue Oct 05, 2004 11:51 pm
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chrisbroad
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I am a bit amused by all that I have seen here. Is TIME really equal to MONEY in the true and plain sense? Consider the case of an unemployed person- he might be having all the time in the world but he might be penniless on his own. Can we call that RICH? For me Time spent constructively is related to money. In other words time can be said to be directly(or indirectly as case may be Laughing ) proportional to money.

Anyway thanks for all those historical titbits. Might come handy somewhere. Wink
Post Wed Oct 20, 2004 12:10 pm
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xboxundone
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quote:
Originally posted by chrisbroad
I am a bit amused by all that I have seen here. Is TIME really equal to MONEY in the true and plain sense? Consider the case of an unemployed person- he might be having all the time in the world but he might be penniless on his own. Can we call that RICH? For me Time spent constructively is related to money. In other words time can be said to be directly(or indirectly as case may be Laughing ) proportional to money.

Anyway thanks for all those historical titbits. Might come handy somewhere. Wink


I think Time=Equals money but the demand for you time makes you money or value go up..... An unemployed person might have all the time in the world his time still is money it is just very little money Wink It is not a direct proportion varies from case to case... Wink

Post Wed Oct 20, 2004 1:55 pm
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Andrew
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The unemployed person may have "all the time in the world", but they might happen to be penniless because they are not applying the actuating factor of WORK.

You are right, Chris. The forumla isn't just...

TIME = MONEY

It might better be put as...

TIME * WORK = MONEY

WORK is a qualitative factor. One might spend lots of TIME, hours and hours each day, breaking rocks in your backyard. Lots of sweat and toil going on there, but it is probably not WORK that anyone wants. WORK has to be either valued by others such that they will pay for this work, or it must have some other intrinsic value that makes it valuable, like building your own business.

TIME * VALUABLE WORK = MONEY

In the latter case, no one might pay you to lay the foundations of your business, but you work on it anyway because of the potential. Even a person that punches the clock for hourly wages isn't 100% guaranteed that they will receive their paycheck. Their company could run out of money and not be able to pay so...

TIME * VALUABLE WORK = MONEY POTENTIAL

But what if we are doing something really clever with our work. Imagine you setup a website that allowed visitors to purchase an electronic book. The website is fully automated, so after the initial investment of TIME and WORK, the MONEY POTENTIAL continues over TIME...

TIME_1 * VALUABLE WORK = (MONEY POTENTIAL * TIME_2)

(MONEY POTENTIAL * TIME_2) = PASSIVE INCOME STREAM

Now you've taken your TIME and WORK and applied it in such a way that it continues to generate money long into the future.

Now that is working smart.
Post Wed Oct 20, 2004 3:26 pm
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xboxundone
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quote:
Originally posted by Andrew
Now that is working smart.


As the old saying goes work smarter not harder Wink

Post Wed Oct 20, 2004 4:48 pm
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FinaNewbie



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quote:
I think i am Rich because i am blessed with a great wife and a good job..... And every day i become richer because i appreciate things more along with my gain in wealth from working


Agree. I hate how some people just became a $$ making machine and totally forgot about the whole point is to enjoy life!! Wink
Post Thu Oct 21, 2004 6:39 pm
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ku
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When people say "time is money" they are referring to the value of time and in particular the opportunity cost of wasting time.

When people make more money their free time (leisure) becomes more valuable.
Post Sun Nov 14, 2004 12:17 pm
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Even those of us who are not rich in this day and age probably have it better then rich kings of the past.

How much would King David pay for a microwaive?

Our technology just amazes me.

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Post Sat Dec 04, 2004 11:06 am
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Andrew
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Great point. Air conditioning, refrigeration, DVDs, computers, GPS, the Internet. These are all things that the richest never had just a few generations ago.
Post Sat Dec 04, 2004 5:23 pm
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