According to the 2020 Forbes’ list of world billionaires, Bill Gates is worth approximately $113 billion. But as early as 1999, his wealth was already unbelievable.
In that year, Evan Marcus noted that Gates had $79.77 billion, and with that money, he could buy all the gold reserves of the United States in Fort Knox, and he would still have an excess of $41.4 billion.
If all his money were in one-dollar bills and he laid these end to end, the line of bills would be equivalent to 16 times the distance between the earth and the moon. If he used This money as mattress for his king-sized bed, it would be 21.87 kilometers high. Every night, he would have to use a plane to get to the top of the bed so he could get a good night sleep. In the morning, he would have to parachute to the ground.
Today, if Gates were a cell phone addict, all his money could buy enough load so he could talk for 1.5 million years, at the rate of 10 cents per minute. And even if the price were one million dollars per minute, he could still call straight for 1.81 months.
In 1998, Gates donated $150 million to develop vaccines against diseases afflicting Third World children, but that amount represented a mere 0.125 percent of his net worth. Gates and other billionaires who donate part of their wealth to health programs, are seen today as heroes but many of them use philanthropy as a tax shield. And, as one health care provider in a poor country aptly writes:
“Appealing to the megarich to be more charitable is not a solution to global health problems. We need a system that does not create so many billionaires and, until we do that, this kind of philanthropy is either a distraction or potentially harmful to the need for systemic change to the political economy.”
I read somewhere that Joe Heller, author of the book Catch 22 was once informed that his royalties in 40 years would not amount to a billionaire’s income in one day. Heller replied: “That billionaire certainly has more money than I have, but I think I have something that he will never have — the knowledge that one has got enough.”
Knowing that we’ve got enough—this is one lesson few of us ever learn. We are prone to multiply our possessions until they become ridiculously out of proportion with our needs. One Dominican brother used to say this about women collecting thousands of signature shoes: “What do they think of themselves? Centipedes? They must wake up to the fact that they only have two feet.”
One philosopher wrote that what drives us to hoard wealth is our fear of death. We make up for our lack of time by stockpiling bank accounts, landed property, business firms and companies bearing our names. We regard wealth as a guarantee for immortality. We overwhelm our fear of death with greed.
Greed is, basically, the mindless pursuit of a lie. No matter how rich we become, we remain insatiable. Today’s luxuries become tomorrow’s necessities. What satisfies us today bores us tomorrow. Greed submerges all of us into one vast network of illusions. We continue to want more even if we already have too much. This is perhaps why in today’s gospel reading, Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit is the person who can say: “I’ve got enough.”