It sucks to be rich
I often find myself uttering the phrase, “you don’t want to be really rich, because it sucks to be rich.” For whatever reason I’m always asked to explain that opinion. I’ll do so here so I can just reference this blog post from now on instead of having to repeat myself.
Just to be clear, it also sucks to be poor. I’m not saying it doesn’t because it really, obviously does. My experience going to Ghana and making friends with dancers who later injured their backs has shown me that, especially when there are unmet medical needs, being poor absolutely bites.
But I would (and will) argue it also sucks to be rich, in a more psychological, and less sympathetic (as in, people don’t have sympathy for you) kind of way.
This recent article from the New York Times, about a reported who lived like a billionaire for a day, is worth a read and is what spurred me to write this post. My favorite line:
“Somebody’s got to live this life,” he says, gesturing to the pristine view from his penthouse villa. “God decided it should be me.”
Not that this line supports my arguments, but it’s just awesomely grandiose and despicable.
Anyhoo, back to why it actually sucks. I am using evidence I gleaned from working at D.E. Shaw with quite a few rich people (as in never have to work in their lives and can take yearly ski vacations in the Alps or wherever) and a few insanely rich people (way more). So it’s a relatively small sample size, but even so it’s not empty.
The main reason I think it sucks, is that human nature has us worrying about stuff no matter what. And rich people don’t have normal things to worry about, so they make up really weird shit to worry about. That’s kind of the whole argument but I’ll give a bunch of examples.
The primary reason it sucks to be rich is that, counter-intuitively, rich people constantly worry about money. If you drew a graph of “have money” versus “worry about money” it would be a “U” shaped graph. I feel very lucky to be in the sweet spot where I make enough money not to worry about paying my bills or being on medical insurance but I don’t make so much money that I have to start worrying about it.
What do I mean? I mean:
- Rich people worry about whether they’ve invested their money correctly (not a concern for me). This sounds like a joke but believe me, they talk about it for many many hours, probably more time than they spend with their kids.
- They worry about whether the charities they give money to are really producing stuff, because the scale of their donations is so large (again, not a concern for me, if I give money it’s to Fair Foods and I know exactly where it goes, usually to paying for insurance for the trucks).
- They scheme and plan how to affect politics and politicians with their money. Maybe not so much sympathy for this.
- They worry about whether their kids will turn into good-for-nothing leeches and so come up with weird estate planning contracts with lawyers to keep money away from their kids, which in turn screws up their kids and their relationship with their kids. This stuff is for real and can get insanely nasty, see this article if you don’t believe me.
Who needs all that? I’m much happier having kids where I’ll say, when they are ready to go to college, hey here’s how much we’ve been able to save, here are your college choices, the rest you’ll have to pay for yourself so choose wisely.
In other words, it’s good to have nice and reasonable worries.
Besides money, what do rich people worry about? The answer is: absolutely everything, and nothing, at the same time.
My favorite two examples come from stories about David Shaw himself, who is massively rich. I didn’t actually meet the people involved, so these are myths I heard working there, but they are really good myths and have the ring of so-absurd-nobody-could-make-this-up.
First example: David hires a Ph.D. in English literature (he has a thing for “geniuses”, even in the mail room) to test mattresses for him. So that person’s job is to sleep on 15 different mattresses, for 8 nights each, and draw up a report to tell him the pros and cons of each mattress. This is to avoid him having an uncomfy night’s sleep. That’s what the risk was that we were avoiding with that.
Second example: David wants to be sure his trip to California goes smoothly, so he hires a Ph.D. in Something to take the exact same trip – same car service to the NY airport, same flight (same seat on plane!), same car service upon arrival, same hotel, exactly a week before his trip (due to understood seasonality issues of air travel) – to make sure there are no snags, and to draw up the report that presumable explains how much leg room there was in his plane.
You could say that he’s just a weirdo, but here’s where I’d disagree. Before making $2.5 billion, he was just a computer science nerd at Columbia. Sure, he was intense and probably competitive, but he had normal worries and isn’t famous for being a total jerk. For that matter he’s still not famous for being a total jerk, but he’s clearly got not enough to worry about.
In other words, I’m convinced that if I had that much money, I’d be doing stuff like that too, and so would you. The existence of asstons of money around you makes you weird and entitled. Add to that that everyone around you is either your servant or someone who assumes you are living a perfect happy life, and you become increasingly isolated and misunderstood on top of it, which leads to more weirdness.
Yuck! I’d rather be saving up for a family trip to somewhere nice, and in the meantime having stay-cations where the biggest expense is a Brazilian barbeque restaurant in Queens.