If you had $50 billion to throw around, what would you do with it? Save the planet or buy a fleet of private jets? Or both?
On the same day that Bill Gates retired from Microsoft to devote himself to rescuing the human race, I happened to catch two separate movies about its demise. The choice of films -- Wall-E and Planet of the Apes -- was a coincidence. We were watching lots of movies to allay our anxiety about my oldest going off to sleepaway camp the next morning. Wall-E had just opened, and Planet of the Apes happened to come up in our Netflix queue. When you're anxious, a movie can be a great escape. Unless of course the movie is about the apocalypse and the woeful period afterward when the plucky survivors are forced to cope with mass disaster. (Check out that final scene in Planet of the Apes, by the way -- a true classic. Nobody delivers a maudlin, campy, melodramatic line better than Charlton Heston. "You maniacs! You blew it up!" And while you're at it, try this one -- "Soylent Green is people!" My fave post-apocalypse films also include Terminator and Children of Men. Others?)
You gotta love those movies. They give vent to our worst fears while managing to hold out a last bright hope for survival of the species. Older and wiser, mankind will rise from the ashes. Charlton Heston rides off into the sunset with his Eve to repopulate the planet. (Add in the fact that she's mute, and plenty of male viewers would likely sign on). Today, with skyrocketing fuel prices and global warming, we're surely headed for mass disaster. The point is, we need saving, and Charlton Heston is no longer available.
Enter Bill Gates. This is the guy who put Windows on a billion computers worldwide. He changed technology -- and the way we live -- forever. In the process, he wrote the handbook on ruthless business practices and made $100 billion. For a long time in the 90s, he was the richest man on the planet. (Microsoft stock has declined, so he's down to a measly $50 billion and got shoved off the list by a bunch of Arab oil billionaires.) Now he's decided to give his kids a mere $10 million each, and give the rest away through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, devoted to solving problems of global health, development and education. This seems to me to be a pretty good way to spend your $50 billion, and I have to ask myself -- would I do the same, if I were in Bill Gates's shoes?
I enjoy that game where you ask, if I suddenly came into an extra million bucks (say, like by selling a big book!), what would I do with the money? But because the amounts I dream of are relatively small, I never really think about using the dough to save the planet. What would I do with a million bucks? Blow it all on one item. I just got a circular in the mail yesterday advertising a smallish, not gorgeous lakefront house on a prime piece of property on a lake I love. If I had an extra million dollars, I'd buy it, and have enough left over to do some renovating and buy furniture. That's all. Planet -- fend for yourself. I don't have enough to save you. But $50 billion? That number seems to impose some real responsibility.
I confess -- if it were me, I'd skim off more than $10 million for each of my kids. $10 million is enough for them to live on comfortably for the rest of their lives, but not enough for them to experience great wealth. And having grown up with no money, I would find great wealth too hard to walk away from, for myself or for them. Why would I deny my kids their own jets? Or tell them they can have a primary residence, and a nice second home, but not a string of residences around the world? A housekeeper and a nanny but not a large staff? Enough to afford college tuition for their kids, but not enough to buy the grandkids' way into the college of their choice by donating a building? No -- I'd give each kid a billion, and still have $48 billion left over for the planet. I guess this makes Bill Gates a better man than I.
Okay, so how do I spend the remaining $48 billion? (Other than on shoes?) What are our most pressing problems? Suggestions? Post it below, or if you like, write to Mr. Gates.