Paul Nixon's Blog |||

Who’d want to be a billionaire?

The existence of inordinately wealthy individuals is the cause of consternation in modern times, keen as we are on equality.


The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, for example, has a net worth of around $250 billion at the time of writing. The median American household has a net worth of around $200,000, so Musk is more than a million times wealthier than the average American.

But, here’s a question you might not have thought about.

How many times better off is Elon Musk, if we look beyond the money, and instead to the things that actually matter in life?

How much more food can he eat? How much longer will he live? How many more children can he have?

No doubt he has some nicer things.

But he has exactly the same iPhone, Netflix, internet, Diet Coke, the same medicine, and the same science as the rest of us.

There are some downsides too. Privacy for one. He works much harder than most folks which is not generally considered a treat. He also has a more stressful job than average. He also has a literal world of hate to deal with.

After a great deal of consideration, and doing some careful netting off of the incommensurables, and rounding to a single decimal place, I reckon he is roughly 1.7 times better off than the average American.

Ultimately, we only want money because we think it will make us and those around us happier. And that intuition is not wrong; our subjective well-being does broadly track with wealth. But nothing like as linearly as we might imagine. Even preposterous levels of wealth translate into fairly marginal benefits overall.

Anyway, that’s enough about billionaires. What about us?

The lives we lead today are much closer to those enjoyed by the world’s very richest than they are to those endured by overwhelming majority of our ancestors. Prior to the 20th century, everyone lived lives akin to those of the world’s poorest to today. That we have escaped this misery should be a cause of great celebration and some not inconsiderable gratitude.