There’s this concept floating around that there are two types of billionaires. There are the good billionaires who earned their money doing activities where the fruits of their labor are seen or consumed, like those quirky dot-com professionals who give us all our cool gadgets and useful websites.
Then there are the “bad billionaires”, which many refer to as the shady dealers of wealth that huddle around Wall Street and the world’s financial markets.
This perception has been around as long as people have been envious of wealth. But is it fair? Even the Pope is jumping on these assumptions nowadays:
Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI said “the world’s financial systems were built on sand and only God’s works have solid reality”. He referred to a passage from St Matthew’s Gospel on false prophets, saying ”He who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand”.
OK, Pope, really? With those Gucci hats and Prada shoes, I’m not sure if you should be stepping on anyone’s house of sand. However, with the frequency of the recent collapses things are looking awfully sand-like on Wall Street.
However, I take issue with the Wall Street Journal’s recent assertion that these so-called “good billionaires” are all they are cracked up to be. They reference Tiger Woods, Donald Trump, and Martha Stewart as being of this ilk with “tangible fruits of their labor.” Let us not forget those months Martha spent in the clink for some “intangible dealings.” And Donald Trump, that douche is your poster-boy for “good billionaires”? The only guy I really don’t have issue with is Tiger Woods, and he’s an athlete, everyone in America loves their athletes.
I think the real issue here has risen in light of Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld’s testimony that he still managed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars while he watched his company fail into bankruptcy. There is just more cause for accountability with these dotcom “good” billionaires. If the company is a flop, they get axed. Simple as that.
But these days with golden parachutes and severance packages dominating more of the merger discussions than the actual deal, we are all getting wary of Wall Streeters and “dudes in business suits“. And we tend to forget more readily the indiscretions of the “good billionaires’ ” tech companies when they may be building monopolies, stealing ideas, or practicing options backdating.
Can anyone name someone on Wall Street they admire as a decent person? Does every big business name conjure images of a greedy fat cat who is stealing your money? Does Wall Street have as bad a reputation nowadays as the big oil and energy companies?
WSJ: Dot-Com Billionaires Are Good, Wall Street Billionaires Are Bad, September 29, 2008
TimesOnline: Pope says world financial system ‘built on sand’, October 6, 2008