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Filthy Rich

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November 6, 2023

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FILTHY RICH: The rise and fall of the rare female billionaire

Yes, Taylor Swift is dating a football player, whoopdeedoo, but also—better breaking news: broke through the Female Billionaire Glass Ceiling. Not that we didn’t see that coming. Singing in the rain through her crazed fan Eras tour, while re-recording her whole discography, is launching her on a private rocket to a new planet made of glitter that is in fact gold.

  1. Patricia Kluge, former heiress and model, had a huge divorce settlement from her husband John Kluge (once ranked the richest man in the US), which she poured into a vineyard and elsewhere. All her investments went bust when the housing market crashed in 2008 and “Kluge lost it all.” Donald Trump, one of the fallen billionaires on the list, by the way, bought her Albemarle winery for a steal from the foreclosure bank. Attempts like auctioning even her jewelry failed to save her from declaring bankruptcy in 2011.

 

  1. Jocelyn Wilderstein, with the lion cartoon face that has clearly been the victim of a severe plastic surgery addiction, seems to have squandered her billions—also from a divorce settlement—on extreme spending habits (purchases rumored at $1M per month) but she faults the bad settlement terms (a mere $2.5B!) that included a forged Diego Velázquez painting and a Paul Cézanne worth less than assessed.

 

  1. Elizabeth Holmes is on my mind because…Halloween costume! She just went to jail this year despite newly birthing a baby (which seems to be the lowest form of yet more manipulation that failed her). Unlike these socialite divorcees above, Holmes was a rising star all on her own—widely considered a genius. She won enough big ticket investors with her promise of Theranos blood test technology (which could use a finger prick’s worth instead of needles and vials), to become in 2014 the world’s youngest female billionaire at the age of 30 (before Taylor did this at 33). And it all went bust when her “massive fraud” was exposed. There was really no Theranos technology; it was all smoke and mirrors—or in my twisted vision of this, blood-splatter.

 

When I think of change and its fast pace, like to think of this quote from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when the character said his bankruptcy happened “Gradually and then suddenly.” Taylor was worth $360M just this June and soared to $1.1B by October. That’s a crazy acceleration that was always guaranteed, as more money begets evermore money. While there are other female singers that have reached this status, she got it all for her music/performances, as opposed to Rihanna bolstered by her underwear (which I love). This Forbes article puts Taylor up now in the rarified billionaire musician air of Springsteen.

As a person who also knows how to hustle, I of course admire Taylor and her obvious and innate relentless drive and determination. But then the numbers she’s achieved just boggle the mind of a dutiful and diligent person who in recent years had to vision board earning a mere six figures. My concept of money sadly stays very near the level of getting and spending very tangibly only what I need to live.

What does a billion dollars even mean? Does the bearer of such wealth even fathom it? Because I certainly can’t. If you too need help visualizing it, here are some great charts from Annuity.org, in summary, just to get your mind around the number:

One billion pennies would stack 158 times the height of Everest (870 miles). One billion seconds amounts to almost 32 years. One billion human steps (at 2-feet per step) equals 15.28 trips around the equator. Why this is hard to imagine:

Mathematician Spencer Greenberg provides some insight into why human brains struggle to comprehend large quantities such as a billion. He explained to Gizmodo:

“We can easily visualize five things. We can even roughly visualize approximately 100 things — by, say, picturing a large crowd gathered. But when we’re talking about millions of things our ability to visualize completely fails.”

He goes on to note that, based on visual experience, people develop an intuition across their lifetime to “feel” that 10 is much bigger than one and that 100 is a drastic increase over 10. But, because people do not receive visual references to connect to large values, they never develop the same “feeling” about a billion versus a trillion.

If you fall more in line with the median US annual income ($67,521), it would take you 14,810.21 years to save $1B for your retirement, assuming you set aside every single penny of that salary. Or, let’s say, slightly more realistically, that somehow you can save $100 daily. That would take 10M days (not including interest) to save a $1B. That’s 27,397.26 years!

May we humble hundy-savers live forever!

Even among billionaires the pay gap between genders is real. There’s 337 women on the billionaire list that numbers 2,668 billionaires, and the first woman (Alice Walton) shows up only at the 17th slot, at a significant dip from the highest achievers (Elon/Jeff/Mark among them). The world “has never been wealthier than it is right now.”

And, as we well know, the rich just get richer. From Bloomberg.com:

The world’s 500 richest people added $852 billion to their fortunes in the first half of 2023.

Each member of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index made an average of $14 million per day over the past six months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Soon enough some of these folks will be trillionaires (Elon likely first by next year) and then we’ll really have to do some serious mental math gymnastics to fathom it. Gradually and then suddenly: the first billionaire on record was oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller in 1916. Now there are thousands, and we’re talking ten multi-centibillionaires (in excess of $100B) in the top tier. This hyper-elite group of ten are all on track to hit trillionaire status within a decade. Alice Walton, should she live to 92, is the first woman estimated to get there by 2042.

Still no chart or graphic can explain to me what’s the point of having gazillions more dollars than you’ll ever be able to spend in your lifetime—and when is it ever enough? A topic for a new Swiftie song, if she’s taking requests.


Krista Mad­sen is the au­thor be­hind word­smith­ery shop,  Sleepy Hol­low, inK., and pro­ducer of the Home|body newslet­ter, which she is sharing reg­u­larly with The Hud­son In­de­pen­dent readership. You can  subscribe for free to see all her posts and re­ceive them di­rectly in your in­box.

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