One Hundred Billion Dollars

By Heinz Bulos

One of the funniest scenes from the comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery goes this way:

Dr. Evil: Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that a breakaway Russian Republic called Kreplachistan will be transferring a nuclear warhead to the United Nations in a few days. Here’s the plan. We get the warhead and we hold the world ransom for…ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

Number Two: Don’t you think we should ask for more than a million dollars? A million dollars isn’t exactly a lot of money these days. Virtucon alone makes over 9 billion dollars a year!

Dr. Evil: Really? That’s a lot of money. [pause] Okay then, we hold the world ransom for…one…hundred…BILLION DOLLARS!

Who would have thought inflation can be so hilarious? One million dollars in the sixties may sound a lot, but not much in the dot-com nineties. In the same way, a million pesos – while still relatively a lot given the average household income in this country – can only take you so far these days.

Last year, we came up with a “Millionaires’ Secrets” issue, which flew off the shelves. So we thought we’d up the ante with a “Billionaires’ Secrets” theme this time. It’s not that we think we’ll turn you into a Lucio Tan or a Manny Villar but we believe billionaires can teach us a thing or two about creating, growing, preserving, and giving away wealth.

Frankly, I have no aspirations of becoming a billionaire. My needs are simple and my wants are few. Don’t get me wrong, I desire to be a millionaire, i.e. in US dollar terms. If you think that’s a lot, try to compute how much retirement fund you need just to maintain a comfortable standard of living 20 to 30 years from now. You see for me, that’s enough. It may be too much for some, not enough for others. That’s because wealth is relative.

If you look at the richest Filipinos in Forbes’s ranking of “The World’s Billionaires” for 2008, only two made it – Lucio Tan, with $1.5 billion, and Henry Sy, with $1.4 billion. And they pale in comparison to the world’s richest – Warren Buffet, with $62 billion (it’s no longer Bill Gates, who slipped to number three after Carlos Slim). Tan and Sy were far down the list of 1,125 billionaires, at numbers 785 and 843, respectively.

Buffet himself is a third short of Dr. Evil’s ransom demand of $100 billion. And if you look at my $1 million target, it’s only .0001%.  Maybe for some of you, a million pesos is already enough. We all have to figure out when enough is enough.

A good place to start is simply to be content with what we already have. (I doubt this qualify as a billionaire’s secret.) Then work towards your “enough is enough” goal, i.e. that relative amount that you believe will provide you and your family the standard of living – and quality of life – you dream of. And once you reach that, and happen to have developed the knack of making more, maybe even a lot more, do what some billionaires like Buffet and Gates do – give most of it away. Because, really, one hundred billion dollars is just too much.

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