Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How I Spent My First Billion

I was born wealthy. I had nothing to do with this bequest of good fortune, and I'm not feeling guilty about it as some would have me do. Much of the wealth I had I can only appreciate looking back over my life. I can say that it truly is the experiences that stand out more so than the material things, but I had those, too.

I had houses in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Iowa and several in Texas. I even spent some time living abroad, it's one of the things you can do when you have the means. I (like many wealthy people) had two families, but they get along exceptionally well. Spending liberally on both of them keeps things on an even keel. In my family, my parents know about spending -- they've each spent over TWO billion.

Rather than being idle with my wealth, I spent quite a bit of the first billion on education. Several schools in several places, sampling what I could learn. I even got a doctorate, and a career to keep me busy. Doing nothing with the wealth you've been given is just wrong, isn't it?

And I spent, boy did I spend. Looking back, it's hard to imagine that I spent on average around eighty-six thousand a day. I even spent my wealth when I was sleeping, but the sleep was worth it. It's funny, when I was younger the wealth seemed more valuable somehow, but now having spent so much I have the memories to show for that billion. In the process of burning through my first billion I found a wonderful, thoughtful, capable lady who really wanted to help me spend it well, and we have three really funny, intelligent children, all of whom have their own fortunes to spend or (so we hope).

I made a lot of good, genuine friends. It's hard for some people to know whether it's their wealth that brings friends to them, or they themselves, but either way I met and befriended hundreds of people while I was spending my fortune. I have friends from nearly everywhere I lived, much like families, when you spend on people they tend to remember it, and appreciate it. People say you can't buy friends, but those people just don't spend the right way.

The end of my first billion I didn't even recognize, to be honest. I was working my first real Big Boy job, living in a great little town, father of two and planning to have Lasik in a couple of months. Best I can figure on August 9th, 1999, at about 5:30 in the morning I spent the last of my first billion.

I turned 31.7 years old. And in my sleep, I started spending my second billion.


The billion I had wasn't in dollars. I had spent a billion seconds of my life to achieve all those things. My two families were my brother, sister, mother and father, and then my own family with my wife. I lived in all those places mostly because I was a kid moving around with my parents. I "bought" friends the way we all do -- with our time, our greatest investment in others.

I found out that I had spent a billion seconds already when I recently read Everyday Survival by Laurence Gonzalez, an excellent meditation on life, people and energy disposition. It was about that time that we were talking about these huge budget deficits, when the phrase "billions" was casually discarded in favor of "trillions", and it struck me how little we understand and relate to large numbers like that. A billion seconds is three-quarters of my life to this point, almost. We consider people who've had three billion seconds of life to be quite old. When people start talking about a $787 billion stimulus bill, that's a little over $86,000 a day for roughly 200 lifetimes.

And when they talk about a trillion -- that's a whole order of magnitude (well, three orders of magnitude) more. A trillion seconds ago was 30,000 years ago. These numbers are staggeringly large, and it sort of makes my mouth go dry a bit to consider that those numbers are debt, money that is intended to be repaid. Statistically speaking, I've worked for 15 years, and spent four months per year working just to pay the taxes I've owed. Doing the math, that's:

60 months
240 weeks
1200 workdays
9600 working hours
34,560,000 seconds

In my next billion seconds I'll probably be working the whole time. Assuming no increase in income tax rates, that's going to mean the income taxes I'm paying will consume 6.9% of my life. That doesn't even count the repayment of debt, the debt this year alone is nearly half of the budget, meaning that if we all spent 13.8% of our lives doing nothing but working to pay taxes we'd break even...this year. This assumes no inflation and no increase in interest on existing or future debt, both of which are exceptionally unlikely.

This is why the debt bothers me: because my kids will be spending a little over a tenth of their adult lives working to pay income taxes just to keep pace with the debt, not to even begin eliminating it. Once you add in the anticipated shortfalls from Social Security and Medicare, they're trillons of more dollars in the hole.

They're kids, and I'm not going to explain this to them until they ask me. Right now, they have a wealth of time they need to spend developing themselves, their skills and abilities. Right now, I'm the adult with the wider view of the world and what's going on, and it's my responsibility to change this. It's the responsibility of all of us who have the skills to do basic math to let our representatives know how much we dislike this level of spending.

It's not just your dollars they're taking. It's your real wealth that's being spent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Darren, once again you amaze me. You manage to tell very complex things in simple and interesting terms that really make an impression. Proud doesn't even begin to express it!
Love, A Well-Meaning Friend