F. Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to have said to Ernest Hemingway,
"The very rich are different from you and me." And Hemingway is supposed
to have said to Fitzgerald, "Yes, they have more money."
I come down on Fitzgerald's side on this one.
I have this theory that the very richat least some of themare
very different in the head from you and me.
By "very rich," I don't mean millionaires. I mean billionaires.
My theory is that whenever you cross the threshold between millionaire and
billionaire, your mind shifts gears and becomes what the rest of us would
I'd like to give you a personal example of that change, but I'm
neither a millionaire nor a billionaire. I am at certain times of the
month a thousandaire. Right now, I'm a
(Another way the very rich are different from you and me is that
their wealth gets published in Forbes magazine so they can't lie about how
poor they are.)
Anyway, something happens inside a millionaire's head when he
crosses over to billionairehood. He transcends the fear of ending up in
the county poorhouse. And what happens to all those synapses in his brain
that have been snapping away with ideas about how to avoid the county
poorhouse? They're freed up to make other connections, some of them
This isn't getting too technical, is it?
I know, I know. You need an example. Here's one:
Ted Turner turns billionaire and has a brand new thought: "I'm
gonna buy a baseball team and some Nebraska sandhills and a bunch of
buffalos. I'm gonna have fun."
Mere millionaires don't do that. Mere millionaires are too
worried about where their next million is coming from. But billionaires
don't give a damn where their next million is coming from. It'll come
from somewhere or other.
And because they're now thinking more quaintly than you and me,
billionaires sometimes do quaintly nice things.
Ted Turner pledged one of his billions to the United Nations.
But my current favorite billionaire isn't Ted Turner. My current
favorite billionaire is the guy from Omaha, Warren Buffett. He's a piece
He's worth only about $30 billion, depending on what the Dow did
today, but that's enough to allow him some major league quaintness. Big
Like when he says he won't invest in enterprises he doesn't
understand. Those Microsofty-Nasdaqi things. He's got this quaint idea
that no matter how profitable a company is, if he doesn't understand it he
doesn't buy into it.
I like that.
But what I really like about Warren Buffett is his quaint sense of
Last month, that sense led him to write an op-ed piece in the New
York Times in which he said that if we don't reform campaign financing,
we're going to have "government of the moneyed, by the moneyed, and for
The Truth, Mainly
Get that? A guy with big bucks warns against the influence of
guys with big bucks. Is that quaint or what?
So I like that too.
But what I really, really, truly-ooly like about Warren Buffett is
what the A. P. reported he said at Columbia University on Sep. 27.
"I hear friends talk about the debilitating effects of food stamps
and the self-perpetuating nature of welfare and how terrible that is," he
said. "These same people are leaving tons of money to their kids, whose
main achievement in life has been to emerge from the right womb. And when
they emerge from that womb, instead of a welfare officer, they have a
trust fund officer. Instead of food stamps, they get dividends and
Does that knock you out? That knocks me out.
And what do you think his most serious complaint about government
It's so quaint you'd never guess it in a thousand years, so I'll
It's that government doesn't tax him enough.
I'm not kidding.
He says he considers himself "very undertaxed." He says "I'm
paying taxes at a lower rate than my secretary
and frankly I think
Read that quotation again. Stick it on your refrigerator.
And keep Warren Buffet in mind the next time you hear how awful
the estate tax is. (Mere millionaires call it the "death tax.")
Keep him in mind the next time you hear that 40 percent of a
national tax cut should go to the richest one percent of us.
I've watched the first two Gush-Bore debates now, and I've got an
idea. Let's print up new ballots with Warren Buffett as the candidate of
the Quaintly Different from You and Me Party.
He'd unite us all: Democrats would love him for being an
egalitarian populist, and Republicans would love him for being a
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail