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How Much Is Enough?

Just a rhetorical question, but an interesting one to ponder… There is obviously no real concrete answer, but let’s play an interesting thought game: there is a financial axiom that states one can withdraw 4% annually from a properly invested portfolio without touching the principle – indefinitely. So let’s say had you a million invested – that means you could withdraw $40,000 a year forever without touching your million. Not bad for doing nothing.

If you had a billion dollars, you could withdraw $40,000,000 a year. That’s right – forty million dollars each year. For life. That seems like more money than a single person could spend, year after year. Oh sure, it’s quite possible one could spend more than that in one year. You could buy, say, a ten million dollar Manhattan penthouse, a ten million dollar castle, and a ten million dollar yacht. But wait, you’ve still got almost a million left to spend each month. And the next year you’ve got more money to spend, and the year after that, and the year after that. So a billion dollars seems like it would be enough, no?

Now, mind  you, I’m not making any judgments here – who am I to say how much is enough. But looking at Wikipedia’s rankings of the wealthiest people in the world as of today (I realize this isn’t a definitive source – remember, we’re playing a game here), I came across some numbers. They are astonishing…

Bill Gates: 86 billion, Warren Buffet: 75.6 billion, Jeff Bezos: 72.8 billion (these are the top three). Jumping to number five we have Mark Zuckerberg at 56 billion, and tied at number 8 are the Koch brothers at 48.3 billion each. If you had 48 billion, you could withdraw $1,920,000,000 each year for life without touching your original 48 billion! WTF!!

Now I understand that generating this kind of wealth is often a byproduct of creating something. Just because you’ve made 48 billion you’re not going to stop creating whatever goods or services earned that money – so your business will of course continue to generate wealth, as it should. And maybe each of these hugely wealthy individuals contributes enormous sums to charity or helping to fund research to stop disease, or tries to help humanity in some other meaningful way.

But somebody is funding a lot of very powerful lobbies in Washington for the sole purpose of making the rich even richer. And that prompts my question, “How much is enough?”

After the first billion or so, at what point might you think, “Maybe I should give some of this back to help others…”