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The Truth, Mainly - 10/16/2000

Rx; A President Different from You and Me

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 rich—at least some of them—are 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 call quaint.

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 couple-of-hundred-bucks-and-chump-changeaire.

(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 pretty quaint.

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.

Imagine that.

But my current favorite billionaire isn't Ted Turner. My current favorite billionaire is the guy from Omaha, Warren Buffett. He's a piece of work.

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 time.

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 fair play.

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 moneyed."

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 interest."

Does that knock you out? That knocks me out.

And what do you think his most serious complaint about government is?

It's so quaint you'd never guess it in a thousand years, so I'll tell you.

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 that's crazy."

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 billionaire.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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