September 28, 2010

How much it costs to be Bill Gates

A reader writes that
I met Bill and Melinda Gates a couple times after they bought a house in Fairbanks Ranch [a gated community in northern San Diego County next to Rancho Santa Fe]: 5K square feet, $5.1M, on a postage stamp lot. ... We used the same bank.

His clothes were just a little better with never a sign of wear, eye-glasses just a little better with not the least sign of corrosion, etc., suggesting he replaced them every few months.  They went to the local cinema which had just a touch of the artsy to it.  They patronized the best coffee shop and  consistently tipped the barristas a buck.  But the small noticeable visual differences in quality represent a lot of money difference in the prices he paid. The glasses he wore were the $350+ titanium ones, not the 2 for $100 ones most people where I live now get.  The shirts were priced $200 apiece in the window of the local shop 

In general, super rich people today like to live, on an hour by hour basis, rather like the upper middle class lives, comfortably and casually. They like to drop in at the local coffee shop rather than have the butler make a huge to-do out of "Tea is served, sir." They don't dress for dinner, the way rich people used to put on tuxedos each evening at home. They like to drive themselves instead of having a chauffeur, except when commuting through heavy traffic.

But they do like to have lots of beautiful homes in beautiful places (Gates' primary home in the Seattle region supposedly cost $44 million) and get from one to another in private jets, and have personal assistants make sure everything goes smoothly for them when they get there. It all sounds much less of a hassle than being rich in the Robber Baron days.

65 comments:

Dutch Boy said...

The Robber Baron days are not over. Gates got his bucks by creating and enforcing a monopoly, just like the old Standard Oil days.

Anonymous said...

Well, they're all new rich - they don't know how to live like royalty. Besides, there's no point making a tabloid spectacle of yourself, especially when you aren't an entertainer, just some guy who got rich in business.

Re: monopoly...network effects, man. No one wants a laundry list of operating systems. Something had to capture the entire market. Lately, we've started to have plurality. That's good! Beforehand, computers wouldn't have developed with such a plurality, so the net effect of the "monopoly" was good - and, after all, the Sherman Act was written to produce optimal effects for the public, not for particular actors.

Anonymous said...

This is precisely why the lib elites despise the middle class. They will happily pay 90%+ tax rates if it makes everybody else poor and dependent on their goodwill.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that seems to be the trick. Get in at the early stage and create a monopoly ... Apple are at it as well.

Mr. Anon said...

"In general, super rich people today like to live, on an hour by hour basis, rather like the upper middle class lives, comfortably and casually. They like to drop in at the local coffee shop rather than have the butler make a huge to-do out of "Tea is served, sir." They don't dress for dinner, the way rich people used to put on tuxedos each evening at home."

And they also, by deploying considerable money and influence, influence the destinies of men and nations. Ah yes, the simple pleasures.

Anonymous said...

Gates seattle home floorplan was pub lished in the media. Weirdly massive staircase entry! Entry suitable for a building much much larger. Maybe the plan was to keep adding on over time.

Anonymous said...

According to Wiki, the primary Gates domicile now has an assessed value of $147.5M dollars, with property taxes of over $1M dollars in 2009. Regarding how the super-rich dress down, there is an excellent account of this culture change in the book " Bobos in Paradise " by David Brooks. The book kind of reads like a sociological extension of the first half of the "Bell Curve". He discusses how the new meritocratic elite that emerged in 1960's sought to distance themselves socially and politically from the old WASP establishment. One of the ways they did this was to invert the status markers of the old elite. So the old elite dressed up, they dressed down. There are other numerous examples in the book, and it often makes for hilarious reading.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Gates' home..... When you walk in as a guest, they hand you an electronic lapel pin that you get to program with your own personal preferences. So when you walk into a room, the temperature will change, the music you like will come on, the artwork on the wall (the art is broadcasted on screens that look like portraits) will change, etc. It's pretty cool, if you are lucky enough to get an invite.

At one point, Bill had foreign sand imported to make a nice waterfront beach for his house.

The family is pretty active in the local university (University of Washington) and Washington state politics. I think his dad, Gates Sr., wrote some type of ballot initiative and even gave the commencement at the UW graduation. His mom, Mary Gates, has a UW building named after her.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how the fortunes that are being made today buy different things than in the Gilded Age. People like Ted Turner have some pretty spectacular ranch spreads, but mostly as Steve pointed out it's 5-10K square foot houses in gated communities. The difference was brought home when a friend of mine talked about taking a vacation with her friend, who turned out to be Patty Hearst's daughter, at a semi-secret Julia Morgan-designed Hearst estate on nearly 100,000 acres in Shasta County. The place is so secret and secluded that there are only a handful of photos of the place on the Internet. That's a whole other way of life and level of wealth that would be hard to replicate today.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the sex slaves Steve......rich people love sex slaves


Dan in Dc

Anonymous said...

20 of the 44 million Gates spent on his primary residence was dedicated to S&M dungeons- that's a fact that the lib media WILL NOT REPORT


Dan in Dc

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

The family is pretty active in the local university (University of Washington) and Washington state politics. I think his dad, Gates Sr., wrote some type of ballot initiative and even gave the commencement at the UW graduation. His mom, Mary Gates, has a UW building named after her."

The old physics building (Physics Hall) was renovated and renamed Mary Gates Hall........after Bill made a 10 million dollar donation to UW. Mary Gates hall houses "The Undergraduate College" - an academic unit that was created at that time, and which the university had done just fine without for over a hundred years.

The new law school building is named William Gates Sr. Hall - named after Bill's father, who just happens to have the same name. Again, I believe, after a sizeable donation. Incidentally, the old UW law school building - which had all the style and beauty of a high-rise housing project - was named Condon Hall, often referred to as "Condom Hall", partly because of the similarity in sounds, and partly because, like a condom, it was used to house dicks.

Tanstaafl said...

I used to live right next door to Fairbanks ranch.

I left California because it turned into Mexico.

You can call it whatever you want. It's still Mexico.

headache said...

I wish Gates would stop masquerading as a philanthropist and start reimbursing Windows users for overcharging them with all that ill-gotten gain he obtained plagiarizing others' ideas and abusing his monopoly.

Whiskey said...

Anon are you not getting Henry Nicholas III's alleged dungeon confused with Gates?

Nicholas, was accused (by a contractor he did not pay) of constructing a secret underground sex lair in his new gazillion dollar home. IIRC, the whole thing was settled with a payment. Since his wife has not divorced him AFAIK, I'd guess Nicholas had some secret bunker/panic room built, not a sex cave, and paid to hush it up.

Samueli, his compatriot and fellow accused in the back-dating options case, is now donating a lot of money to send Mexican kids to science fairs in middle school to turn them into STEM engineers/scientists.

This is how one achieves respectability. Nice White Lady times 100.

Eric said...

It all sounds much less of a hassle than being rich in the Robber Baron days.

How much hassle is it to wear a tux for dinner if your butler lays it out for you (or even helps you dress)?

Anonymous said...

How much hassle is it to wear a tux for dinner if your butler lays it out for you (or even helps you dress)?

It's not the dressing that's the hassle, it's the scheduling. Your butler is a man, not a robot, so you have to coordinate yourself with him, as well as with your parlormaids, housemaids, laundresses, nannies, etc etc etc. Everyone was on a rigid schedule.

jack strocchi said...

But they do like to have lots of beautiful homes in beautiful places (Gates' primary home in the Seattle region supposedly cost $44 million) and get from one to another in private jets, and have personal assistants make sure everything goes smoothly for them when they get there. It all sounds much less of a hassle than being rich in the Robber Baron days.

Time is money. So the less time spent administering wealth, the more time one has to enjoy it or make more of it.

dearieme said...

London is uninhabitable unless you're helicopter-rich. Is the same true for NYC?

jody said...

i'm reminded of the scene in batman '89 where michael keaton and kim basinger are eating at opposite ends of a table which has to be at least 30 feet long.

i doubt many billionaires employ such a table in 2010. that seems rather 1910.

jody said...

i know a guy in london in his 30s who's a millionaire thanks to 10 hard years spent in finance, working 12 hour days in london's financial district. even he tells me london is uninhabitable. some of london is turning into a third world slum, too.

Big Bill said...

@dearieme:

Twenty years ago a midtown lawyer friend's rule of thumb was $300K per annum to live comfortably in NYC.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Bill Gates doesn't particularly get off on being rich. His great wealth seems to be a role that he donned to aid his corporation. Rather like Hugh Hefner who had to bed all those starlets and host all those parties. In both cases I imagine their respective boards insisted that their top guy have an extreme public persona to help with the corporate branding.

Larry Ellison of Oracle seems to enjoy his wealth rather more.

Gates' main contribution to our culture has been in fashion. I remember not wearing a tie to work exactly twice in a period of twenty or more years. I wore a turtle neck once under my suit coat at the urging of my wife. The other time she had me wear an ascot (of all things). I may have looked dashing as she said but I was deeply uncomfortable. When I went to the office I wore a suit.

In the eighties I was an information systems manager so I was, in the same business as Gates, in a sense, but we dressed differently. I once had my tailor fit me for a new suit in my office - much to the delight of my female staff who hovered outside the door. Gates on the other hand wore casual pull over shirts to his office.

But gradually we all came to dress like the "richest man in the world" and have been more comfortable ever since.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Wyntoon, the Hearst place mentioned above by a previous Anonymous, is gorgeous. If you happen to get to know a Hearst, I highly recommend a visit.

It's also really weird, incorporating (among many other buildings) a fake Bavarian village. You wonder why precisely the village feels so Disnified until you're told that Disney illustrators were imported from LA to do the frescoes. Depending on which Hearst you're there with, you may well end up playing a lot of bocce...

If I remember right, WR Hearst had J Morgan build it as a last-ditch Fortress of Solitude in the early days of WWII. Which if true makes the Bavarian village part even stranger. Anyway, an incredible place.

Jimbo said...

"The place is so secret and secluded that there are only a handful of photos of the place on the Internet. That's a whole other way of life and level of wealth that would be hard to replicate today."

Ah, yes - what Paul Fussell called the "rich out-of-sight" class. They're still around, but what's interesting is how the trash culture has made inroads there. Remember a few years ago when that Firestone heir went on "The Bachelor"? Hard to imagine any similarly old money making a such a spectacle of themselves in the old days...

Saint Louis said...

Hey, I usually tip my baristas $1. Maybe people think I'm a billionaire.

Truth said...

"20 of the 44 million Gates spent on his primary residence was dedicated to S&M dungeons- that's a fact that the lib media WILL NOT REPORT"

I've heard O'Reiley, Rush and Hannity go into Gate's kinkiness pretty much every other day on their programs though.

Anonymous said...

Gates also collects his pocket change in an old water jug on the floor in his closet (true story). That, and the other surprisingly prosaic details about his life don't really mean much, except that he's human just like you or me.

Having worked with a lot of billionaires, I can say one thing definitively: money does not really change people. What it does is give them the freedom to be more purely themselves.

With great wealth (or power), the everyday social and personal inhibitions that prevent many of us from expressing our truer personalities start to loosen and fall away. Established habits tend to remain, but the core essence of personality distills and comes out at a much higher proof. Someone with a tendency to be a jerk gets a billion dollars? They become King A$$hole of the Universe. Someone who is generally pleasant and tractable gets a billion dollars? They become one of the most wonderful people you will ever have the good fortune to meet.

Where is Bill Gates in this spectrum? I don't know for sure, never having spent much time talking with him. His actions suggest some answers, though. He does not seem to arrogate himself to power over others and is concerned for others' welfare. But he also apparently thinks that smart people should run everything regardless of their possession of wisdom or not.

There are a few reasons I suspect the very wealthy are so overwhelmingly Liberal in political orientation. First, it is the ideology of the ruling power structure, and therefore anyone whose interests are significantly aligned with the power structure (and the very wealthy certainly are, whether they like it or not) has a strong incentive to adopt its ideology as a signaling mechanism.

Second, the more decent and intelligent sort of very wealthy person tends to have an acute awareness of how extremely different their means are from others, and just how much luck was involved in the accumulation (i.e. a LOT). Call it guilt or compensation or whatever, but this effect should not be underestimated as an ideological motivator.

Third, most wealthy people tend to be smart, and Liberal orthodoxy is an ideology that panders to smart people. It gives them personal justification for their success (via meritocracy). The antinomian character of Liberal iconoclasm has a powerful appeal to people who are smart and ambitious, giving a clear ideological justification and framework for tearing down existing power structures and replacing them with...well...the smart people themselves.

Ironicly, of course, the Liberal program has been so successful at supplanting the established power structures with the rule of the Liberal intelligentsia that it is now the establishment itself. It would be an immediate target for its own ideological program if it hadn't also been so successful in implementing a system of near-universal ideological indoctrination.

Which brings us to the final reason the very wealthy are overwhelmingly Liberal: they were raised that way. Even great wealth can't free you from the prejudices and indoctrinations of youth. It does, however, give you the means to act on them in ways that have tremendous impact. The elite are Liberal, finally, because they really believe in the truth of the Liberal ideological program. They are dangerous because they have the power and resources to put these beliefs into action on a large scale.

SFG said...

"20 of the 44 million Gates spent on his primary residence was dedicated to S&M dungeons- that's a fact that the lib media WILL NOT REPORT"

Given what I've heard about computer hackers, this is almost credible. I can't see it being half of the house price though.

Steve Wood said...

It's not the dressing that's the hassle, it's the scheduling. Your butler is a man, not a robot, so you have to coordinate yourself with him, as well as with your parlormaids, housemaids, laundresses, nannies, etc etc etc. Everyone was on a rigid schedule.

Strictly speaking, it was your valet, not the butler, who laid out your dinner clothes and helped you dress.

Anyway, what's all this about "rigid schedule" and "hassle" and such?

First of all YOU weren't doing any of the coordinating or adapting. Your butler organized the household staff to suit YOUR schedule. You didn't have to adapt to anyone or coordinate anything.

Secondly, your wife oversaw the general functioning of the household. It was her role, along with her social duties, to see that the butler did his job in supervising the staff; she also provided general oversight to the cook in terms of meal planning and the like, although the cook herself supervised the kitchen staff.

It's no good trying to make the life of rich people ca. 1900 sound rough. Then as now the rich lived as they liked and lived much better than anyone else.

Anonymous said...

According to Wiki, the primary Gates domicile now has an assessed value of $147.5M dollars, with property taxes of over $1M dollars in 2009.

In round numbers, suppose that Gates is worth about $30B, and that the house is worth about $150M.

Then the ratio

{total net worth} / {primary domicile net worth}

would be 200.

By contrast, I'd be willing to wager that for about 80%* of all Americans, that ratio is no higher than about 1.

Or, to put it another way: $150M doesn't even amount to chump change for a guy like Gates.



*At least for the Americans who are trying to pretend to make mortgage payments on a primary domicile, or who have finished off their mortgages altogether.

I don't know how you'd even formulate the problem for the legions of folks on Section 8, or in public housing, or renting an apartment, or living in a relative's garage [meaning that I don't know what the ratio's denominator would be].

Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago a midtown lawyer friend's rule of thumb was $300K per annum to live comfortably in NYC.

Is there something wrong with me, or does 1990 seem like yesterday?

That era gets a lot of play on NCIS - at about that time, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was in Desert Storm, and his wife and daughter were murdered by a Mexican drug dealer - but having lived through it in reality, it just doesn't seem like it was all that long ago.

[Way off-topic, but someone in the NCIS braintrust is going hard after Mexico and its endemic corruption.]

By contrast, Happy Days, which debuted in the mid-1970s, purported to portray events in the mid-1950s, and, in the mid-1970s, the mid-1950s seemed like ancient history.

I get the same feeling watching current episodes of Mad Men - that in the mid-1960s, WWII [i.e. the mid-1940s] must have already seemed like it was an eternity ago.

Murray & Derbyshire are onto something when they point out how much the pace of civilizational change has slowed - pretty much to a crawl - and that with our burgeoning dysgenic fertility, the improvements will soon grind to a halt altogether, at which point civilization will begin its inexorable decline towards extinction.

i doubt many billionaires employ such a table in 2010. that seems rather 1910.

1910 seems like a REALLY long time ago - pretty much the beginning of the end for this round of civilization [even though we didn't realize it at the time].

Svigor said...

Re: monopoly...network effects, man. No one wants a laundry list of operating systems. Something had to capture the entire market. Lately, we've started to have plurality. That's good! Beforehand, computers wouldn't have developed with such a plurality, so the net effect of the "monopoly" was good - and, after all, the Sherman Act was written to produce optimal effects for the public, not for particular actors.

This layman disagrees. I'd have much rather seen two major OSes duke it out. Competition would've done Windows a hell of a lot of good.

Dahinda said...

Warren Buffet still lives in the ranch house he bought in the late 50's.
http://myfinancialobjectives.com/2010/03/warrant-buffetts-humble-abode/

Anonymous said...

regarding dressing for dinner - my grandfather was upper middle class but not 'rich' he used to come home, shave, put on a tie and fresh shirt for dinner even if there were no guests.

greenrivervalleyman said...

Back in my student days I got kicked off campus (due to drawing a bad number in the housing lottery, not because of any Animal House-style exploits *sigh*) and ended up renting in-law quarters only a couple houses down from Steve Jobs. This was before the iPod made Jobs a billionaire, but still, the man must have been worth 8 figures even then yet his lifestyle was anything but ostentatious. A nice, French country style house in the middle of Palo Alto with a silver Mercedes SUV out front- pretty much par for the course for Silicon Valley's upper middle class. His house was so small I could actually see him typing at his black NeXT workstation in his office most days coming back from class.

Steve Wood said...

Second, the more decent and intelligent sort of very wealthy person tends to have an acute awareness of how extremely different their means are from others, and just how much luck was involved in the accumulation (i.e. a LOT). Call it guilt or compensation or whatever, but this effect should not be underestimated as an ideological motivator.

But isn't this true for people in general, at least those of us above the 50th percentile economically (which I suspect includes most of Steve's readers)?

There's a lot of luck involved in anyone's success, however limited it may be. Failure to recognize that is a character flaw. Those who insist that they got whatever they have solely by dint of hard work, with no help from anybody and with no element of luck involved, tend to be arrogant, mean-spirited jerks in all aspects of life, not just financial.



Is there something wrong with me, or does 1990 seem like yesterday?

...

By contrast, Happy Days, which debuted in the mid-1970s, purported to portray events in the mid-1950s, and, in the mid-1970s, the mid-1950s seemed like ancient history.


I agree, but that's because I was born in 1957. The Happy Days world was known to me only through TV and vague early memories, so naturally it seemed like forever ago when I was a teenager and young man in the 70s.

On the other hand, by 1990 I was an adult, so of course it seems like just yesterday. I'm remembering the events of that year from an adult perspective, the same perspective with which I experienced them.

I get the same feeling watching current episodes of Mad Men - that in the mid-1960s, WWII [i.e. the mid-1940s] must have already seemed like it was an eternity ago.

To me at the time, yes. To my parents, who were in their 20s in the 1940s, not at all.

Anonymous said...

Bill Gates doesn't have a monopoly. I use Linux and OpenOffice. You could, too, but you prefer Microsoft products.

travis said...

Neither wearing a suit and tie to dinner nor hiring 'help' makes one a gentlemen. Indeed, the Robber Barons were such pretentious vulgarians a new word, shoddy, had to be found to describe them. Gates' non-style, in comparison, is much more bearable.

TGGP said...

"There are a few reasons I suspect the very wealthy are so overwhelmingly Liberal in political orientation"

The political leanings of the 400 richest:
"231 people donated to the Democratic party from 2006 --2010 totaling $6,169,360

-- 247 people donated to the Republican party from 2006 --2010 totaling $7,284,882"

Anonymous said...

Gates net worth is $54B dollars, so $150M dollars is 1/360th of that, and that's just the stock he owns now, not counting all the stock Gates had already cashed out during the late 80's and 90's. I don't imagine Gates is very political at all, he's certainly not a big "L" liberal like a lot of second, third, and fourth generation family billionaires are. Gates' interest in education I imagine is being driven by his wife and it's just politically centrist enough not to make waves, as opposed to interest in the environment or health care which are quickly hijacked by those with a far-left agenda, as Larry Ellison discovered when he wanted to give Harvard a pile of money for health research, but then pulled the plug when Harvard forced out Larry Summers.

Regarding his contributions to the U of Washington, I do recall hearing that he was instrumental in luring away a top molecular biologist from Cal Tech to Washington in the 90's by giving him his own state of the art lab. Later his catch left because he felt the university was insufficiently ambitious. He created his own non-profit private research lab in Seattle so my guess is that Gates and his fellow MS billionaires might have had a hand in financing that, although I don't know for sure.

jack strocchi said...

Anonymous @ #27 said...

There are a few reasons I suspect the very wealthy are so overwhelmingly Liberal in political orientation.

These are all good reasons. To sum them up: liberalism is the ideology of social progress through individual autonomy. Preeminently through educational effort and occupational merit.

So liberalism is really the ideology of the educated middle class. The class which overwhelmingly produces New Rich.

If you are an intelligent autonomous individual operating in a liberal social framework who happens to be successful then its natural to conclude that the liberal social system is a good one. Particularly if that success seems to be fairly widely spread and correlated with likewise capable individuals.

That is one reason why the genetics of IQ are so toxic to the liberal middle class. If it were the case that intellectual capacity was largely the result of genetic lottery well then the notion of individual merit becomes much less plausible.

So liberalism is the ideology of the upwardly mobile middle class. Most people can agree thats a pretty good thing, at least until the past 20 years or so.

The only problem is that there are limits to liberalism, and it is approaching its point of ideological exhaustion. Nowadays liberalism is more like a licence for free-for-all amongst both the under-class and the over-class. Never more clearly seen than in the GFC which saw Greater Fools and Masters of the Universe coupled to almost bring the house down.

New Left cultural liberalism licences the excesses of the under-class. New Right financial liberalism licences the excesses of the over-class. Combine them together and we get USA Today.

Anonymous said...

Neither wearing a suit and tie to dinner nor hiring 'help' makes one a gentlemen. Indeed, the Robber Barons were such pretentious vulgarians a new word, shoddy, had to be found to describe them. Gates' non-style, in comparison, is much more bearable.

I never knew that about "shoddy." Thank you! In response to your point, though, I'd say that on the whole I'd rather have my vulgarians be flashy and amusing. There's nothing worse than phony humility.

Wilson said...

"This layman disagrees. I'd have much rather seen two major OSes duke it out. Competition would've done Windows a hell of a lot of good."

Instead, he focused on abusing that monopoly to squeeze out competitors in other segments of the industry, like applications. A single OS might be a "natural monopoly," but not a single spreadsheet, word processor, or database. Think how stable and reliable Windows might be if Microsoft had spent more of its time focused on improving Windows.

Oh, and did he ever actually admit that Windows was in fact a monopoly?

But speaking of competitors and what it cost to be Bill Gates, I'm acquainted with a man who made hundreds of millions before his company was crushed by Gates. He doesn't even qualify for the Forbes 400 (anymore), but just one of his several homes (he owns at least 3) has a staff of about 30.

These people have butlers, maids, chefs, groundskeepers, accountants, lawyers, and pilots at their beck and call. Every home has a full-time caretaker, at least, even when the boss is away. Chauffeurs? Why waste 2 hours or so a day driving when you could be on the phone cutting deals? A chauffeur saves you more time than a maid or gardener would for someone with an average-sized home.

If the people who work full-time to manage Bill Gates' affairs, his properties, and attend to his every need number any less than 100 I'd be very, very surprised. Even averaging $100G each that would cost him "only" $10 million a year.

As for why the rich don't put on a show anymore, can you just imagine some guy in a three piece suit, top hat and cane stepping out of his Rolls-Royce while Jeeves holds the door? The West today is so dressed down, and America so egalitarian, that he'd attract lots of laughs, even more venom, but very little respect, which is mostly what he wants anyway.

"20 of the 44 million Gates spent on his primary residence was dedicated to S&M dungeons- that's a fact that the lib media WILL NOT REPORT"

If this is true then I think more highly of Bill than I did before.

"Someone with a tendency to be a jerk gets a billion dollars? They become King A$$hole of the Universe. Someone who is generally pleasant and tractable gets a billion dollars? They become one of the most wonderful people you will ever have the good fortune to meet."

Perhaps, but aside from heirs and heiresses, almost no one "accidentally" becomes a billionaire. They become one by caring about money, and by making sure they get their share, and usually more. So that's one personality trait they all have in common, however else their characters might diverge. The most prominent billionaire in my neck of the woods purports to be devoutly religious, and puts on a very nice public face, but behind the scenes he's giving money to politicians right, left and center, to buy access wherever he needs it. These politicians almost all, not-so-coincidentally, belong to the same party: the Incumbent Party.

neil craig said...

It is less of a hassle being poor now.

If the Jeves stories are to be believed a butler or gentleman's gentleman, then did most of what a personal assistant does now.

Kylie said...

travis said..."Indeed, the Robber Barons were such pretentious vulgarians a new word, shoddy, had to be found to describe them. Gates' non-style, in comparison, is much more bearable."

Maybe to you, not to me. What you call Gates's "non-style", I would call pretentiously unpretentious. You can't tell me he can walk into any room and not be the person to whom others defer. His face and name are instantly recognizable (at least to the segment of the population with whom he comes into contact) and his wealth and power are vast. Thus, regardless of his personal habits and demeanor, his fame inevitably precedes him and sets a tone as effectively as any courtier of old did for his king. Gates would have to be oblivious in the extreme not to see that.

I grant his "non-style" is probably not forced, probably just a natural extension of who he really is. But the fact that in pretty much any and all circumstances, he can afford to be his true low-key, slightly disheveled self indicates a degree of luxury available only to the very rich.

I, too, loathe the vulgarity of the Gilded Age. But Gates differs from them essentially in style, not substance. They stockpiled the goodies, he stockpiles the good works. Giving so many millions to reading or mosquito nets or whatever is just as ostentatious in its way as buying the contents of English country houses and importing marble floors and frescoed ceilings from Europe to adorn your "cottage" at Newport.

And frankly, I prefer the Robber Barons's legacy of beautiful homes and artwork for the rest of us to enjoy; I think Gates's do-gooding* will leave a legacy open to debate as to its ultimate value.


*No, I don't mean I think reading should be only for the privileged few or that I have no problem with wee ones dying of malaria. I have reservations about his methods, not about his goals. Life sure was simpler when I could post here without adding all sorts of addenda to head off the trolls.

Anonymous said...

...On the other hand, by 1990 I was an adult, so of course it seems like just yesterday. I'm remembering the events of that year from an adult perspective, the same perspective with which I experienced them.

I get the same feeling watching current episodes of Mad Men - that in the mid-1960s, WWII [i.e. the mid-1940s] must have already seemed like it was an eternity ago.

To me at the time, yes. To my parents, who were in their 20s in the 1940s, not at all...


Sorry, I gotta demur.

I'd definitely agree that, say, 1979, with polyester pants and Devo and the Carter Malaise was vastly different than 1999, with Monica Lewinsky and Ricky Martin/Lou Bega and a roaring stock market [thanks to a GOP Congress which slashed the Capital Gains tax rate].

But I just ain't seeing all that big a difference between 1990 and 2010.

What do we have now that we didn't have back in 1990 - a GUI sitting atop the ideas which we used to call FTP and Telnet, which, when combined with Adobe Flash or Apple Quicktime or Microsoft Silverlight, gives us what - streaming digital television?

Wilson said...

"His face and name are instantly recognizable (at least to the segment of the population with whom he comes into contact) and his wealth and power are vast. Thus, regardless of his personal habits and demeanor, his fame inevitably precedes him and sets a tone as effectively as any courtier of old did for his king."

This is an interesting point. The powerful of pre-modern times needed ways to signal their importance to the people around them, since their faces were not generally well-known due to the absence of photography and television.

The powerful today have their visages broadcast so often that they are identifiable on sight by millions who have never met them.

"and a roaring stock market [thanks to a GOP Congress which slashed the Capital Gains tax rate]."

The roaring stock market was roaring before the cap gains cuts took effect, thanks to the widespread adoption of GUI technology via Windows 95 which enabled the adoption of the internet, made accessible by Netscape Navigator, and which made computing technology accessible ans useful to more people than ever before. The internet/tech boom would've happened either way.

Anonymous said...

Bill Gates has a multi million dollar dungeon in his basement? I've never heard that one before. I did a Google search and came up dry on Bill Gates, S&M, house, dungeon, sadism, sadomasochism etc.

I found that Kinsey claimed that 22%of American men had some sadomasochism tendencies. I don't believe that one either.

One of the Wachowski brothers (of Matrix fame) is known to be into S&M but otherwise there are not many celebrities who have been identified with kink. I think such an identity would be almost impossible to hide today.

OTOH many considered Bill Gates to have murdered Gary Kildall.

Kildall went out flying the day IBM showed up in the market for an OS for their new machine the IBM PC. In frustration they went north and met with Gates who was only too eager to sell them an operating system that he didn't even own at the time.

Poor Gary went into a tailspin became depressed and suicidal. He began acting erratically and got himself killed in a biker bar.

Lots of CP/M users still blame Gates. It's always been fun to demonize Gates.

Albertosaurus

Steve Wood said...

What do we have now that we didn't have back in 1990 - a GUI sitting atop the ideas which we used to call FTP and Telnet, which, when combined with Adobe Flash or Apple Quicktime or Microsoft Silverlight, gives us what - streaming digital television?

I can't tell if you're joking or not, so forgive me if the sarcasm flew over my head.

That said, are you kidding? I can think of two things that have utterly changed the way ordinary people live their day-to-day lives: ubiquitous cell phones and, obviously, the internet.

Our lives today are very different from the lives we led 20 years ago. The only comparable change in recent history is the rapid diffusion of automobiles and mass media (radio and movies) in the 1920-1940 period. Like those changes, the technological revolution of the 90s and 00s has made a new society, as different from the one that came before it as the world of 1940 was different from that of 1910.

greenrivervalleyman said...


But I just ain't seeing all that big a difference between 1990 and 2010.


Anyone who claims that strikes me as either seriously young or seriously old. Here's a run-down of the major diffs:

* Cold War still on (duh) with no guarantee Ruskie generals won't go out in a hail of ICBM-delivered glory
* California still viable for the GOP
* South still viable for Democrats
* rock'n'roll still THE major popular musical form, not yet a niche form
* rap still a niche musical form, not yet THE major popular musical form
* MTV still airs music videos
* "bitch", "ass", still cuss words; cannot be spoken on network TV
* AIDs still believed to be something other than a gay disease; predictions of the "end of sex"
* cars built as if the 70's oil crisis still on; top-of-the-line Corvette pulls down less horses than today's Toyota Camry
* fear of Japan buying up the world? Credible! China the future factory of the world? Incredible!
* Wall Street still richer than Silicon Valley
* Arab terrorism (much of it by Palestinian "Christians") more prominent than Muslim terrorism
* feminism still a viable force in the culture wars; abortion, sexual harassment top-shelf political issues
* masturbation still taboo
* oral sex considered more intimate than vaginal sex

Mike said...

The "Gilded Age" is somewhat misrepresented in a number of the above comments.

The plutocrats of the late nineteenth century tried to pattern their lives on those of the European aristocracy. The grand houses, liveried servants, debutante balls, and all the rest were copies - perhaps not always ringing true, but many came very close. The Social Register was a sort of knock-off of Burke's, Debrett, or the Almanach de Gotha.

Many of the "robber barons" who founded family fortunes were unpolished characters. John D. Rockefeller, Sr., or Cornelius Vanderbilt, are illustrations of this type. Others (J.P. Morgan, Sr.) were educated and refined. In any event, the rough edges were gone after two or three generations. It is an ancient observation that a man who has attained wealth may have attained the "port of gentility," but three generations of gracious living are necessary to make a gentleman of the blood. Heraldry in some countries reflects this; in Spain, for example, a special helm is reserved for use by "hidalgos of three generations."

Personally, I think the rich of 100 years ago had a better time than their contemporaries do today. It's an interesting exercise to compare Lucius Beebe's "The Big Spenders" (a great read) with the David Brooks book mentioned earlier, "Bobos in Paradise." Bobos - up to and including Bill Gates - seem to me to have rather wan and meagre lives compared (say) to Pierpont Morgan or August Belmont.

As for having servants and dressing for dinner - these were far more widespread phenomena than have been acknowledged. Not only great tycoons, but the modestly prosperous - successful professional men, or small-town mill owners and bankers, routinely did both. My father, who began university studies in 1939, went off to school with a dinner jacket and boiled shirts in his wardrobe. My paternal grandfather was the publisher of the local newspaper, a business owner but hardly a grandee.

Many people of this class had, as recently as my childhood, at least a maid, possibly a cook, or a 'yard man' who took care of the lawns, gardens, and the exterior of the house. I speculate that most of the persons then employed at such work would be on the dole today. Wages-and-hours laws, mandated employee benefits, the withholding of taxes from their pay, workers' compensation insurance, and the recordkeeping and filing of innumerable government forms have made the employment of household staff beyond the reach of the merely affluent today - that is, unless they are illegal immigrants paid cash "on the q.t."

Back in the '60s, as an adolescent, I was slightly acquainted (through her children) with a stridently liberal upper-middle class woman who boasted that when she visited the houses of her peers who had negro maids, she attempted to subvert the relationship between mistress and servant by passing out 'civil rights' information to the maids and trying to get them to skip work to participate in demonstrations, etc.

I never knew how successful she was at this, because she did not live in my community. However my perception of this was that she probably thought is was less 'demeaning' for a black woman to sit on her fat duff in some housing project, collecting welfare, than it was for her to scrub floors and make beds for white people. Even then this seemed topsy-turvy to me- wouldn't it be more demeaning to take money for doing nothing, than to earn some sort of living, however modest, doing honest work, however humble? Yet it seems to me that the view of my school-fellows' liberal mother has prevailed, and we are all bearing the costs of it today.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who claims that strikes me as either seriously young or seriously old.

Sorry, but I'm just not buying it.

According to Wikipedia, Prodigy had 465,000 subscribers in 1990, and CompuServe had 600,000 [and I'm pretty sure that CompuServe even had "chat" by then].

And I can assure you from personal experience that anyone who had a NeXTStation in 1990 already knew exactly how the next 20 years of computing technology would look and sound.

Now I have strong, clear memories of the 1970s [and even some vague memories of the 1960s], and I will grant you that there were ENORMOUS differences between the 1970s and the 1980s.

But I just ain't seeing how things have changed all that much since about 1990 - the world still feels largely the same to me [other than maybe the horrifying spectre of dysgenic fertility, which can be attested to by anyone in 2010 who has watched a public school bus unload its passengers, or who has seen a public school class on a field trip in a museum/zoo/aquarium].

Anonymous said...

However my perception of this was that she probably thought is was less 'demeaning' for a black woman to sit on her fat duff in some housing project, collecting welfare, than it was for her to scrub floors and make beds for white people.

Or else she knew that tens of millions of them sitting on their duffs would push our entire society into insolvency and destroy our civilization.

Which was precisely the purpose of her nihilism in the first place.

Greg said...

I saw Gates at a U2 concert in Seattle in 2005. He was really getting into it, albeit awkwardly.
And his wife is a babe.

Anonymous said...

A reader: Bill and Melinda Gates... in Fairbanks Ranch [a gated community in northern San Diego County next to Rancho Santa Fe]... They went to the local cinema... They patronized the best coffee shop...

Greg: I saw Gates at a U2 concert in Seattle in 2005. He was really getting into it, albeit awkwardly.
And his wife is a babe.


At the risk of endangering the guy's personal safety, is he surrounded by four or five CIA/Special Forces/USMC-looking dudes, wearing bulky jackets [which conceal their bullet-proof vests and their Uzis], with dark sunglasses & earpieces, and who constantly bow their heads to talk into their sleeves while they glance around themselves furtively?

I just can't imagine being worth $30B/$40B/$50B/$60B/$WhateverB and not being surrounded by security guards.

Heck, if I were Gates, I'd be wearing a vest myself.

CC-bLF said...

"But I just ain't seeing how things have changed all that much since about 1990 - the world still feels largely the same to me [other than maybe the horrifying spectre of dysgenic fertility, which can be attested to by anyone in 2010 who has watched a public school bus unload its passengers, or who has seen a public school class on a field trip in a museum/zoo/aquarium]."

But don't you see? Demographic change is the most significant of all.

Anonymous said...

Second, the more decent and intelligent sort of very wealthy person tends to have an acute awareness of how extremely different their means are from others, and just how much luck was involved in the accumulation (i.e. a LOT). Call it guilt or compensation or whatever, but this effect should not be underestimated as an ideological motivator.

Michael Medved theorizes that that very thing is what's behind the liberalism of so many successful actors.

Anonymous said...

But don't you see? Demographic change is the most significant of all.

Right - that's my point [and, I imagine, both Murray and Derbyshire would argue that it would be their point as well] - things just aren't getting noticeably better anymore.

Sure, we may have improved, from 28.8kbps POTS dial-up connections at Compuserve, in 1990, to 512kbs "broadband" TCP/IP connections to iSteve, in 2010, but the basic underlying ideas are the same.

And in 2010, we may now have hundreds of channels on DirecTV or Dish Network, but in 1990, we had at least tens of channels on the old Galaxy C-Band satellites.

And modulo a few "MIME" standards, TCP/IP email hasn't changed at all in twenty years.

I'm just not seeing any big qualitative improvements between 1990 and 2010.

Heck, foreign-policy-wise, we've basically been in Iraq and/or Kuwait for 20 straight years now.

Greg said...

There was no security around him at the U2 concert- just his wife and it loked like- guys from the office. No beefy guys. They sat in thier seats about a minute before U2 came out and left before the last encore.

They were expensive seats near the stage. Bono just mentioned that "Bill and Melinda Gates were in the house."

Anonymous said...

There was no security around him at the U2 concert- just his wife and it loked like- guys from the office. No beefy guys. They sat in thier seats about a minute before U2 came out and left before the last encore.

They were expensive seats near the stage. Bono just mentioned that "Bill and Melinda Gates were in the house."


Yikes.

Dude is seriously risking it.

That strikes me as more dangerous than Paul Newman dabbling in car racing.

Udolpho.com said...

You can't write a post about Bill Gates without the bitter Apple and Linux nerds crawling out of the woodwork.

Mr. Anon said...

"Greg said...

There was no security around him at the U2 concert- just his wife and it loked like- guys from the office. No beefy guys. They sat in thier seats about a minute before U2 came out and left before the last encore."

It's possible that there were some security guys seated about him, unassuming like. Reputedly, he has his own security force made up of former special forces operators (SEALS, Israeli Commandos, etc.).

Greg said...

"Dude is seriously risking it."

That's what I was thinking. These seats weren't exclusive at all. There were regular people all around them.

But thaey timed it well. A minute or so before U2 came on, there was a ripple throught the crowd and everyone was pointing in his direction. Then U2 came on and everyone forgot about him.


I looked over a few times, He was dancing like a white guy, but Melinda was really grooving.

I read later that Bono stayed at their house that night. What pissed me off is that he probably got those tickets for free.

Eric said...

The time between WWII and the 1960s can seem long or short depending on how old you were at the time. Look at most of the adventure fiction of the early 60s. Just about every hero and villain had a WWII backstory. James Bond got started in in his trade during the war. Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were just old enough to have served and encountered Sgt. Nick Fury, along with his Howlin' Commandos. A somewhat older Fury was then made over into Marvel's own version of James Bond as the movies became popular. (True Lies showed that Charleton Heston could have been a great Nick Fury if Hollywood had pursued it back then.)

By and large, the writers, who were mostly of an age to have lived through the war, had difficulty believing in a leading man who had no experience of the conflict. It defined manhood for a generation. Gradually, characters like Grimm and Richards became Korea, then Vietnam veterans in order to not be unbelievably old. But not Fury, since there was too much WWII material to ignore, so he instead got an extended lifespan through medical intervention, while Captain America, another character who couldn't be separated from WWII, got put on ice for a few decades.

Mad Men is right at the edge. Making Don Draper a WWII would have made him too old, so it had to be Korea. If the same show were set in the 80s he'd have to have been in Vietnam. After that it gets difficult. There haven't been that many opportunities for prolonged combat experience until just the last few years. More and more characters were turning up with their background relying on secret wars to give them that edge, which is far less believable for someone who is supposed to be a run of the mill American.