How Much is That Nation in the Window?
Years ago I was flabbergasted to learn thespian Kim Basinger was so wealthy that, with a small group of investors, she was able to purchase Braselton, Georgia 20 years ago. Likewise, I was just as surprised to learn that when they were still married, actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore were able to similarly buy Hailey, Idaho, the birthplace of American poet Ezra Pound.
Both ventures turned out disastrously. By 1998, Willis had abruptly pulled all funding from several projects in the works, closed his businesses and laid off hundreds. Basinger declared bankruptcy four years after buying Braselton and was forced to sell her share.
We’ve become so enamored of wealth, even when others own it, that journalists love to gush about the sheer mass of their wealth, at how much they earn per hour or what they can buy. It never occurs to these journalists and bloggers that no one human being should ever own so much capital that they can actually buy entire gross domestic products of individual nations. We’re so fascinated at how elastic their bulging pockets are that we’ve actually transformed their greed into a virtue or, at the very least, something to be marveled at.
So this article by Keren Blankfeld on Yahoo! Finance kind of stuck out.
I could start out by saying that the Forbes 400, the annual list of the 400 wealthiest people on earth, could buy the nation of Russia. The combined net worth of the 400, which is an estimated $1.7 trillion, could easily buy the GDP of Russia, which is listed at just above a paltry $1.676 trillion. But that would be to minimize what these men and women can buy individually. (As an interesting sidebar, it ought to be noted that that $1.7 trillion coveted by the Majestic 400 could buy health care for every American for two decades under the latest budget projections of the Senate's health care bill.)
Blankfeld goes on to state
One Forbes 400 member does actually run a small chunk of a state in an official capacity: Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While he is busy serving as the chief executive of New York City and grappling with its sluggish economy, his own personal balance sheet -- amassed through financial information services and media company Bloomberg LP -- equals the value of all the goods and services produced in South Africa's Republic of Zambia's ($17.5 billion).
Zambia, you remember, is the small, impoverished African nation whose debt the two-legged vulture Michael Sheehan bought for pennies on the dollar from Romania and then extorted the Africans for their full national debt (originally judged to be around $55 million).
Bill Gates, usually at the top of the Forbes list, whose fortune has been conservatively estimated at $50 billion (more or less the exact amount bilked by Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff), is wealthy enough to equal or surpass the GDP of each of the bottom 107 nations on the world list. If he could talk Warren Buffet ($40 billion) into it, they could barely swing the entire oil-rich nation of Iraq (#58, with a GDP of $91.4 billion).
But if actors who make a paltry $20-50 million a year could buy up small towns with populations of 500-2500 10-20 years ago, what’s to stop these financial titans from moving their way up from buying mere corporations and islands and start scarfing up entire Third World nations? And if they do, will they learn a lesson from the scaled-down examples in Braselton and Hailey of what happens when the hyper wealthy overreach themselves and buy entire municipalities?