Who Wants to be a Billionaire?

I’ve had this song stuck in my head since I went dancing last weekend: (Contains the word “fuck” a couple of times. Visuals completely acceptable in public.)

I started off thinking, “But, I don’t want to be a billionaire.” Now that I’ve read the lyrics, and watched the video, I’m smitten. Love the song, love the video – hey, music is music still. Who knew? But I still don’t want to be a billionaire. A hundred-thousandaire, I could go for. But billions? I’m not equipped.

I watched a documentary called Born Rich a few weeks ago, made by Jamie Johnson, (of Johnson & Johnson.) Due to inherit a millions on his 21st birthday, he turned a camera on himself and a handful of his very wealthy friends to find out what they thought about money. As a result, he produced a very interesting movie about money and how it works in a world where nobody talks about it, but where the bar bill on a Saturday evening can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

I am prejudiced to think of the super-rich as a symptom of All That is Wrong in our culture, so I did not hold out much hope for this movie. This movie did nothing to change that opinion, but it did humanize these extraordinarily wealthy people for me.

Caveat: unless you can dig deep into your wells of compassion, this movie will probably make you mad.

It would be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that just because they’ve never known the stress of just plain making ends meet (never mind actual poverty,) that they have never had any problems. I found myself spluttering at a few points over the excesses. It is hard to see past the thousand dollar handbags and $800 bottles of champagne to see that several of these young people are every bit as much adrift as our normal middle-class kids. Not only do they not know what to do when they grow up, they have no Needs to kick them into action. I will grant that a couple of them are aristocratic SOB’s, who think that they are actually better than the rest of us, in one case because of the height of his lapels. (I tried to find some compassion for him, but my well had run dry.) On the other hand, some of them are aware that they didn’t earn this place in the world, and that it is unfair, and that the world is unfair… but they are at the top, and they don’t know any other way of life.

And that is something I just don’t want to buy into. Pema Chodron tells us to be grateful for our middle births, in places and times when we are neither caught up in the struggle for survival, nor so far above it all that we can’t relate to the average human being. I don’t want to be so wealthy that the other thing I can think of to do with $800 (if I passed on the champagne) is buy another pair of jeans. I don’t want that sort of distortion in my world, no matter how much good I could do with the money. Because I’m pretty sure that if I did the things necessary to be a billionaire, I’d lose sight along the way.

(There is also a follow-up movie by the same director, The One Percent. Apparently Milton Friedman got so mad that he ended his interview. I’m looking forward to seeing that.)

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