Those poor rich people at Christmas | NevadaAppeal.com

Those poor rich people at Christmas

Barry Smith

The Christmas season is a good time, I think, to pity the rich.

Might as well. We spend the rest of the year full of envy over their lavish lifestyles, their luxurious homes, their expensive cars ….

During the holiday season, though, I have the suspicion a lot of rich people are like camels trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle. They just ain’t gonna make it.

This week, the Appeal carried the story of a guy who took home $113 million from a Powerball lottery a couple of years ago. Was he happy? No. In fact, it sounds like his life is crumbling.

We get a certain satisfaction out of reading such stories. We put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes – first, as the lucky buck who hit the lottery. Our dreams carry us away into the carefree world of unimagined wealth.

Then, of course, comes the denial. If we did strike it rich, we would never fall into the trap of so many of those other morons. Throwing it away. Losing it by gambling. Making idiotic investments in our brother-in-law’s schemes.

And, finally, reality. We’re never gonna hit the lottery. If we did, though, people always say “It wouldn’t change me.” And they’re right. We’d still have the same weaknesses, the same blind spots and bad judgment and, sure enough, the same relatives.

So what about the people who already are rich? They didn’t become rich overnight, like a lottery winner. They’ve had time to adjust, get some experience, hire expensive advisers. They probably also have relatives who already are rich.

Well, they have their issues too.

I was reading in the Wall Street Journal about the tribulations of yacht owners.

It seems yachts are exploding – not literally, but in size and expense.

Not long ago, you had a pretty enviable boat if it was more than 100 feet long. Now, if you want to impress, it better be more than 200 feet long with swimming pool and retractable plasma television screens.

But if you really want to get noticed … if you really want to play with the big boys … your yacht better come in well over 300 feet long.

Think about it. A boat longer than a football field. And you think you have parking problems.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who I’m pretty sure qualifies as being among the super rich, owns a 414-foot yacht called the Octopus. According to the article, it has two helicopter pads, a basketball court, music studio and its own personal submarine.

Try to push that through the eye of a needle. You begin to see the problem.

Unfortunately for Allen, some Saudi prince is ordering a bigger yacht – over 500 feet, “the size of a small cruise ship,” says the Journal.

Maybe you can’t take it with you, but you can at least float it around for awhile.

Why is there a demand for more and bigger yachts? Because there are more rich people. In fact, not only are there more rich people, the people who are rich are getting richer faster every day.

Try this on for size: “The wealth controlled by individuals in North America with more than $30 million in financial assets – such as stocks and bonds, but not including real estate – jumped 45 percent to $3.04 trillion in 2003 from $2.1 trillion in 2002,” reports Robert Frank from a study by Capgemini-Merrill.

No wonder they needed a tax cut.

Such numbers tend to make my head spin. I don’t comprehend them, even as I fail to comprehend the desire for a yacht. To me, the biggest drawback to owning a yacht would be having to get off it in order to fish. Seems silly.

Getting back to Christmas, though: If you have enough money to buy a $200 million yacht, or a $300,000 wristwatch, or a $350,000 automobile, or a $70 million vacation home in Aspen, then how do you decide what to give as presents?

Oh, I know. I hear you saying: “If I had that kind of money, I could give great presents.”

Sure you could. But could you give a gift they really needed? Would it be meaningful enough to make you feel selfless? Would it be given in the spirit of the season?

Just think how tough that would be.

The rest of us, well, we have it pretty easy. We can spend a few hours ringing bells or dishing soup. We can give a toy to a tot, or pluck an angel from a tree. We can invite someone for dinner who has nowhere else to go.

We can put a smile on somebody’s face, whether we’re there to see it or not.

Those poor rich people. Think how much they’d have to give away to have what we’ve got.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.