Saturday, October 30, 2021

My Friend the Billionaire

Technically he's still in the 180 day lock up period after his company went public where he can't sell shares yet, but as long as the price doesn't drop by more than 25%, even after taxes he'll be a billionaire. 

We are high school friends. He wasn't my best friend in high school, but he was definitely on the short list of good friends. We spent a lot of time together way back in 2001-2003. But times change, he went to MIT, and I purposely did not even apply because I didn't want to follow exactly in his foot steps. Funny enough, he was the liberal one and I was the conservative one back then. Now I'm pretty liberal in many respects as I try to interpret Matthew 22:39. I wonder in what ways he's changed. We haven't kept in close touch. I think I only saw him twice in college and I didn't go to his wedding. I bet he doesn't ride the subway as much as he did in college. 

Once when we were in Spanish class I remember us having a discussion in English and he said that his older brother an engineer was rich, because he had a hot tub. I'll call my friend J. I think J was maybe trying to decide what he wanted to do and he wanted a good paying job. He ended up majoring in software, which definitely worked out for him. There are only approximately 740 USA billionaires, and now one of those is a good high school friend of mine. It's bizarre. All this talk of inequality... it puts the discussion in a new light. 

I'm in approximately the top 10% of Americans for income based on my age. After going to Africa in 2013, and reflecting on the many other international trips I have taken, it's hit me for years how fortunate I am. Even when I have a week like this one where my 4runner needs $1400 in various repairs. I'm very fortunate, I just go and pay the bill. $1400 is more than many people survive on for a whole year. Yet my dominate savings are locked up in my 401(k) like many Americans, not in a publicly traded company. How to put this another way, J is on the brink of having enough money to do more financial philanthropy than everyone that went to high school with him combined. His tax bill, even with just long term capital gains, will probably be greater this one year than all of the income, sales, and capital gains taxes I have ever paid combined. When I think of how much I donate to Give Directly, it pales in comparison to what he could do with 0.1% of his wealth in a single year.

Sometimes I think people think of billionaires are "others", as not normal people. As people with the capability to put microchips (with antennas and batteries) through a tiny needle into a human and have it capable of not corroding instantly and being able to transmit signals through human tissue. The reality is, if my friend was seated two tables away at a restaurant, I might not even see him. Guaranteed that basically no one would recognize him in Colorado, and he's not famous. He drove a little red Ford Focus in high school and didn't have a car the first part of college. While being very intelligent, and having a healthy dose of emotional intelligence even back in high school, he's just a guy. In some ways it scares me, because if he is the representation of the top .0002% of Americans, we're nowhere close to having a Star Trek warp drive to take us around the galaxy or tricorder to detect cancer. On the other hand, if he can do it, well, I might not be able to replicate that success, but I can definitely do something similar. 

I invited him to come out and ski sometime here in Colorado. I'm guessing he'll do his own thing and not take me up on the offer. It's strange, I have two friends with condos in Aspen, which I always think of as the peak of my kind of luxury, but my friend could go and buy a ranch there if he wanted and fly there in his private jet. (I can basically guarantee he doesn't have a private jet yet, that just wasn't his style, and he's probably still figuring out what to do with all that money.) I know that some of his high school memories were not pleasant, and for all I know I might remind him of some of that pain. I hope he's doing well and I'm excited to see what my 36 year old billionaire friend does the next 50 years.

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