May 29, 1998


To be clever enough to get a great deal of money, one must be stupid enough to want it.

G.K. Chesterton

I was talking to an old friend about Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in the world. He, like many others, thinks of Gates as a very important and clever man. I think of Gates as a very clever fool. He has accumulated all of this wealth and power and what can he do with it?

I doubt that he has found an answer to the question: what can I do with it? So far he has built himself a palace. In this Saadam Husein has him beat, since Saadam has built himself a lot of palaces.

The kings of Egypt used their wealth and power to build tombs to hold their dead bodies. Those pyramids constitute the grandest monuments to idiocy that exist in the world. At least the immensely tall buildings in the cities house live people, although what is accomplished in them is a mystery.

Bill Gates is not the first person to accumulate an unconsumable amount of wealth. What happened to those rich people's wealth after they died? In the case of the Kennedys and Rockefellers, the wealth was passed on to their children. Their wealth was so great that what was the wealth of one person became the wealth of their children and their many descendents.

Actors and athletes nowadays become instant millionaires. I doubt that many of them have given much thought to giving back some of that money to the people and institutions that made it possible. Many have the illusion that they did it all by themselves; that they have a God-given gift called "talent."

Many fabulously wealthy people left their money to be used for some "good" purpose. Alfred Nobel endowed a series of prizes for supposed accomplishment in a number of fields. At least Nobel's name still lives. Nobel himself is very dead, and he will remain so.

Some rich people endow foundations dedicated to some noble purpose. Do they accomplish that noble purpose? I have no idea. I do know that they are run by people who are adept at acquiring well paying jobs running foundations. For sure, the foundations are very good at giving money to people who are not very good at earning it, but are very good at tapping foundations. As long as the foundation lasts, the name of the founder is remembered. The remembrance of a name is all that is left. It, and the money, is all that is left of those very rich men.

A few billionaires have decided to get something out of their wealth while they are still alive and have started spending some of. David Packard heavily endowed the Monterey Bay Aquarium and some of its research projects. Ted Turner, Jane Fonda's husband, is spending some of his millions on the United Nations.

But not Bill Gates. He probably spends some of it on liquor and women, but that won't make even a tiny dent in his vast fortune. Any fool knows that Bill Gates can't take his wealth with him. However, there is nothing to prevent him from trying.

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