The news that the world’s fourth richest person, Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda are to divorce created headlines around the world, with speculation about how the couple’s $146 billion fortune will be divided between them.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald, creator of The Great Gatsby said, “The very rich are different from you and me.” They do have unimaginable wealth, but they also have the opportunity most of us don’t – to change the lives not only of themselves, but of millions of others around the world.
Bill and Melinda Gates have pledged to give 95% of their wealth away and have established the world’s biggest private charitable foundation, with an estimated $51 billion in assets. Together with Warren Buffett, widely described as the world’s greatest investor, they created The Giving Pledge, signing up many of the world’s richest philanthropists who have vowed to give away the majority of their wealth either before or after their death.
Buffett has committed to giving away 99% of his Berkshire Hathaway stock – the source of his great fortune. Explaining his decision, he said, “My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well.
“I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.
“The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks [Berkshire Hathaway shares] on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced.
“In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society.”
What is real wealth?
Few of us can hope to match the wealth of Buffett or the Gateses. But financial wealth, above and beyond that which we need to look after ourselves and our families now and in the future, gives us perhaps two of the greatest luxuries of all: choice and time.
Choice, because we can afford not to have to do things we’d rather not, simply because we need the money.
And time, because we are in control of how we spend our hours and days – whether that’s working or playing.
These luxuries don’t depend on us being rich – certainly not in Gates or Buffett terms, and not even in terms that most of us would use to define what we mean by ‘rich’.
We don’t need 10-bedroom mansions to feel rich. We don’t need a yacht, several fast cars or five long-haul holidays a year (although we may be craving some time on the beach after the year we’ve all just had).
Many would argue that true wealth has little to do with money. But achieving the top level of the hierarchy of needs is hard if you are constantly worrying about your job, your bank balance and your pension.
What does real wealth mean to you? Is it, like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, the ability to change the lives of millions of people you will never know personally.
Or is it, as one of our clients recently told us, as simple as, “being able to nap whenever I want”
We’d love to know what you think!