Who wants to be a millionaire?

by Maria on July 31, 2008

To the eternal question; what would you do if you won the lottery? Years ago when I worked in the film industry, a rather suave BBC producer asked the electricians one morning if they’d continue to work. (The conversation took place a couple of weeks after the sparks had broken ranks with the rest of the crew on working nights, insisted on getting their own pay off in cash, and marched around the set waving wads of it at everyone else. Nice guys.) But their answer was a good one: “Yeah, I’d keep on working, but I’d be very f..king cheeky.”

Of course the question really is ‘what is the good life?’. If money was no object, how would you spend yours? It’s complicated a bit by living in the US. First off, the lotteries here seem to impose a double dream tax; if you actually win one, you choose between an annuity or a lump sum. The annuity sums up to a greater amount but doesn’t seem that great a deal if you’re not already financially secure. But secondly, the moral value of money seems to have changed for me in the year I’ve lived here.

First off, you have to start with an arbitrary but precise amount. At the moment, I’m thinking 3.2 million euros, tax free, or equivalent in dollars. It’s got to be enough to demand a re-evaluation of lifestyle (i.e. if it was ‘only’ half a million or so, I’d just sock it away in a retirement account.), but not so much to make me any more than an unusually smug bourgeoise. So no private jets.

When I was still a full-time European, I reckoned I’d do the usual Anglo-Saxon anxiety-reducing stuff like paying off my mortgage. Then I’d bring the gang on a big family and friends extravaganza in a big house in Provence or to a riad in Marrakech. So far, so predictable. Then, I might take a year or two off and write that much-needed biography of my great-grandfather. And maybe I’d just read books and write about them, seeing as 15 years into my career I still see work as an unwelcome intrusion on my wayward intellectual life. But that’s a bit selfish and insular, and ultimately I’d need to have a proper occupation.

Then the money-monster takes over – the idea that because you have a big wad of disposable cash, you should try to shape the world in your own likeness. Let’s call this the Davos Dilemma. It’s much more fun to give money away to pet causes than fork it over in tax, so some form of philanthropy is called for. With only a couple of million to play with, it makes more sense to throw it in with another charity or NGO rather than start up my own. So maybe I’d buy myself a board membership or three. But to my inner blue-stocking, largesse isn’t as morally defensible as simply succumbing to the duty of taxation (Bono, take note.). Already, this money thing is becoming a bit of a burden.

And now that I live in America, I’ve found myself agreeing with the idea that it’s somehow wrong to simply live off a lump sum, that there is some obligation (capitalist? moral? here, they seem to be one and the same.) to put that money to work. All of a sudden, instead of buying myself a charity, I’m warming up to the idea that it’s more virtuous to buy a company and run it, creating jobs, driving growth, and being an all round contributor to the market economy.

Of course, the idea that making money out of money is the right thing to do is self-serving, to say the least. It’s a comforting belief in a society that gleefully punishes ‘bad choices’ the poor make and seems to equate success with virtue. Coming from several generations of impoverished but proud intellectuals, it surprised me how quickly I agreed that the solution to the problem of a windfall would be to buy a firm and run it well. (The idea that I could just up and run a business well is about as likely as me winning the lottery.)

But what it comes down to is this; the lottery fantasy starts off being about running away from the obligations and necessities of material life, but ends up more highly charged version of ‘what should I do with my life?’ . In the beginning of the daydream I go on holidays, pay off debts, make extravagant gifts and indulge in versions of my better self. But ultimately the money simply heightens the dilemma of how to live a virtuous life.

Much though I’d love to live on a desert island and read Proust, there’s more to my anxiety about doing it long-term than the psychological need to survive my real, non-fantasy, non-moneyed life.



John Quiggin 07.31.08 at 10:41 pm

As the discussion on creative capitalism shows, upping the windfall by a factor of 1000 doesn’t resolve the dilemma either.

But rather than trying to run a company for profit, how about using money to promote the kinds of things that for-profit companies don’t do well (at least in the early stages) like blogs and wikis (and before that the Internet itself), but which have a lot of social value and ultimately create the conditions for continued productivity growth . I bet there are some big gaps that could be filled with a million well-spent euros. Suggestions?


gmoke 07.31.08 at 11:42 pm

Having forsaken a family of my own and living on a perpetual grad student level, I am independently poor. I spend my time reading and writing, going to public lectures at Harvard and MIT and other local venues (great free concerts at NE Conservatory) and trying to leverage my knowledge of small scale solar energy into something that can move the public discussion closer to sanity. A few years ago, I thought I had some products that could be marketable but my experience in talking with the “professionals” proved to me once and for all that I am most definitely not a businessperson.

What is difficult is that, since the 1970s, there hasn’t been a community of support for any of these ideas. It is only within the last few months that people around me are beginning to pick up on the ideas and projects I have been working on for thirty years. It is both exciting and infuriating.


R 08.01.08 at 12:48 am

I’d pay off the mortgage, stop trying to “keep my hand” doing part time work, and find good causes to volunteer for.


joel turnipseed 08.01.08 at 12:55 am

I think the big problem with these sorts of things (not so different, anyway, with “what to do with my new promotion”) is that it’s easy to underestimate associated costs of changes in your lifestyle.

That is, if you move from a $300K house to a $2M house, you’re likely to pay an extra $20K+ in associated annual housing costs (property taxes, utilities, upkeep, etc.). Not to mention: the kinds of “social upkeeping” costs you’re likely to incur (summer camps, ballet lessons, shared vacations or the kinds of wine you’re expected to bring to parties).

For that matter, “escape velocity” quality cash is much more than most people think: a couple million in an annuity is barely a median family income here in Minnesota. A $5M annuity would just about put you at the “husband is an attorney/wife is a professor” salary level.

So: unless you won the Powerball, about all you could do is somewhat improve your own standard of living–or very slightly improve the budget of some local non-profit.

OTOH, if I won the PowerBall? I’d buy 100-200 acres in SW Wisconsin or SE Minnesota, set up a kind of Bread Loaf/Aspen Institute/Yaddo Mid-West and spend a hell of a lot of time fly-fishing.


joel turnipseed 08.01.08 at 1:01 am

… and just checked: quite apart from value of property/etc., Yaddo has a $32M endowment and spends $1.2M a year on operating costs.

So, the Powerball would have to be very, very big that week.


Dan Simon 08.01.08 at 1:02 am

3.2 million Euros? If I were you, I’d sock it away in a retirement account. If you’re lucky, you’ll have enough left by retirement age, after inflation, taxation, market crashes, investment blunders and so on, to avoid abject poverty before you die. (And if you end up having any children, you can forget about the money lasting even that long.)


rand careaga 08.01.08 at 3:30 am


rand careaga 08.01.08 at 3:32 am

Apparently no image embedding permitted. Sorry. Here, then.


Ian Miliss 08.01.08 at 6:33 am

I’m with Calvin. Apart from a few extra indulgences, and assuming it’s a ginormous lottery win, I’d like to use it to afflict wrongdoers with vexatious but meritorious legal cases, fund political campaigns etc. All as anonymously as possible of course. It’s a sad sort of superhero megalomaniac fantasy isn’t it.
Incidentally I was shocked by the US lottery system, it seemed to embody the sort of institutionalised dishonesty that is rife there. If a lottery is advertised as $50million, you should get that, immediately, (as you do in Australia), not some reduced lump sum amount or a 30 year trickle.


Dave 08.01.08 at 7:56 am

Whatever you think of ‘winning’, reckon on investing at 5% [even the flashiest schemes won’t return much more than that long-term unless you’re happy with unethical investing]. So how much do you want per annum? I believe somewhere in the region of 20 million, yielding one, is generally regarded as ‘f*ck-you money’.

Starting a ‘company’ is a cute idea, but unless you’re going to bankroll the salaries from your personal wealth, you’re bound to end up in hot water unless it’s specifically designed as ‘not-for-profit’ of some kind.


Tom 08.01.08 at 7:58 am

I thought about this the other day, walking past an advert for the Euro millions roll over. I’d live part time in the West Indies and run a cricket academy to find the new Curtly Ambrose or Malcolm Marshall. I’d also fund young junior squash players struggling to pay their way on the world tour. This and a few other little projects would, I think, make me very happy.


aaron_m 08.01.08 at 8:15 am

I often use this ‘wining the lottery as life evaluator’ fantasy. I want to get to a place in my real life where the only significant change I would make after winning the lottery is to do 20% less of what I am already doing (with as much as possible being the shitty administrative parts) so that I can spend more time with my wife, kids, family and friends.

Oh and to the people who do not think that 3.2 million is enough to buy freedom, you obviously have not even begun to figure out how to game The System.


anon 08.01.08 at 8:51 am

my husband and I (both junior academics) recently inherited almost exactly the sum you suggest, and it feels like winning the lottery. Aside from paying off the mortgage, we haven’t made any major changes – not even any extra holidays. Extra money doesn’t seem to buy any extra hours in the day or to solve the problem of juggling both the kids I love and the job I love.

One thing I do notice now is a sense of disconnection – I read about the credit crunch and don’t care much, because we don’t have to worry about what we spend any more. Its like a great big safety net that insulates you from part of the world.


Dave 08.01.08 at 9:17 am

Go on then, tell us how, smartass.


Tony 08.01.08 at 9:42 am

The only sensible thing to do with such a windfall (€3.2m) would be to take the next helicopter to the Galway Races.


aaron_m 08.01.08 at 9:47 am

Dave if you can’t get it done with 3.2 million Euros you are right to ask for advice. Maybe the path of least resistance is the best place to start.

3.2 million Euros is 4.9 million US dollars, one percent of 4.9 million is 49 000, median household income in the US is 48 000.

So find an average neighbourhood, move in, do like your neighbours and give at least a thousand to charity every year.


dsquared 08.01.08 at 9:56 am

I would spend the money on a concerted attempt to destroy Tom Friedman’s career and reputation. Everyone seems to agree that this needs to be done, but nobody has the time or funds to actually do it. I figure that national newspaper opinion columnists can probably be bribed for roughly $50k a column (sounds about right?), so with a $3m lottery win, I could have a column a week placed writing about how bad Friedman’s journalism is for a year, with $400k left over to persuade the Economist to jump on the bandwagon.


abb1 08.01.08 at 10:09 am

@15 – why so personal? So, they’ll replace Tom Friedman with John Smith writing exactly the same stuff; how is this money well spent?


Dave 08.01.08 at 10:33 am

@16: seems like a beautiful dream to me, since all we’re doing is dreaming.

On which note, @14, your dream is to sit around and be ordinary? How sweet. You could at least throw in a little bit of ‘country cottage, roses round the door’ to tart it up. I thought you mean that with that kind of money, you’d be running the local rackets in six months…. [Or perhaps you *do* mean that? Is all that talk of donating to charity a coded hint?]


aaron_m 08.01.08 at 10:38 am

Well you might be in a normal neighbourhood but you would have a lot of free time on your hands…


novakant 08.01.08 at 11:19 am

I’ve found myself agreeing with the idea that it’s somehow wrong to simply live off a lump sum, that there is some obligation (capitalist? moral? here, they seem to be one and the same.) to put that money to work. (…) it’s more virtuous to buy a company and run it, creating jobs, driving growth, and being an all round contributor to the market economy.

I always found that this was a rather strange way of thinking. Apart from the already discussed fact, that you would need a lot more money to pull that off, it’s not like your going to put your money under your pillow, but instead you’ll keep it in a bank, which in turn will use it to do just that: fuel the market economy. Unless you have something very specific in mind and have the competency that will ensure a reasonable chance of pulling it off (but in that case you could start your own company tomorrow with just a convincing business plan and no money of your own), it’s probably better to leave it to professionals. So I think even if we regarded contributing to the economy as a moral imperative, it’s just fine to live off a lump sum.


Dave 08.01.08 at 11:28 am

Yes, surely limited-liability companies, which we are so regularly assured are the cornerstone of a market economy, were invented precisely to encourage rentier capitalism?


richard 08.01.08 at 1:16 pm

And now that I live in America… I’m warming up to the idea that it’s more virtuous to buy a company and run it, creating jobs, driving growth, and being an all round contributor to the market economy.

You’ve been co-opted, then: it may already be too late to save you. Also, you’d do capitalism, but better? Helping those in a position to help themselves? I think that’s covered, more or less.

I’d fund and manage research projects that I can see would be great, but which nobody is doing, because they’re awkward or because it’s hard to get a strong community of interest around them without an initial product. The sort of thing I might otherwise spend my entire career raising money for. Also, I’d travel a lot and get a private spa that could finally deal with my chronic back pain. I reckon 40 or 50 million should do it.


engels 08.01.08 at 2:04 pm

Running a company is indeed the height of virtuousness and goodness but at the same time there’d only be so many jobs you could create, so much growth you can drive that way. You need to aim higher and use your money to defend the capitalist system as a whole, perhaps by setting up a pro-market think tank, or funding smear campaigns against enemies of capitalism, like leftists, anti-war protesters or environmental activists. That way you will be able to drive even more growth and bestow even more jobs on us ungrateful, morally stunted proleterian untermenschen. Your reward will be in heaven.


Tracy W 08.01.08 at 2:26 pm

I think there would be some value in funding a peer-reviewed scientific journal that only published results where the null hypothesis was confirmed. The only problem is that, after a childhood spent reading Asimov, I suspect merely confirming knowledge rather than expanding its boundaries would get boring fast, so the idea has limited value for day-dreaming.


joel turnipseed 08.01.08 at 2:56 pm

re: median household income is $48K.

A better statistic would be to look at your state’s household median income by family size. For a family of 3 in Minnesota it’s something like $70K; mean income is another $20K or so higher. And that includes very low income areas like the one where I grew up, West Duluth, where you can still buy a 3 bedroom home for $60K. So if you want to live in one of the major metropolitan areas, you’re going to need an annuity of at least, let’s say, $100K to stay at median level, once you account for the fact that you have no defined benefits.

As for Davos Dreams/Start-up Companies or Non-Profits/Creative Capitalism… been there, done that–and it takes a lot more money than you think. It costs somewhere in the $2M-5M/year range to run a neighborhood community center. At the time I sold my software company (after running it for two-and-a-half years), we had only 12 employees and a burn-rate of about $1.5M/year (on revenues of about 80% of that–which is why we were happy to sell). The whole point, per John Quiggin’s recent posts on Creative Capitalism, about things like Open source or Web 2.0 kinds of social wealth creation is that they make use of the Internet to capitalize the labor of very large numbers of people, in relatively small quantities (even accounting for the large head/small tail relation of content creators among these communities): it’s just not something you can “fund” individually, other than as a seed (though it’s getting cheaper and cheaper with cloud services, etcetera, to start something like a Wikipedia). Even so, if you looked at the real budgets for most big Open Source initiatives, they’d dwarf the sums Maria’s talking about.

Basically, with the kind of money Maria mentioned, you could do something nice, but not earth-shaking, like buy yourself Aaron’s median-income lifestyle as an annuity and then fund a single scholarship at your alma-mater.

Which, for an individual, would be fantastic. But dreams of changing the world would have to come either much more cheaply (writing a great novel) or much, much more dearly (a friend of ours interviewed at a new stem-cell start-up whose angel round was $30M).


Michael Mouse 08.01.08 at 3:57 pm

If any Timberites should find themselves in this situation, and feel the moral pressure too great and the ethical calculus too complex to resolve, I hereby selflessly offer to take the responsibility off their hands. Along with the cash.


unclesmedley 08.01.08 at 4:24 pm

Pay you bills. Buy cars & a house. Take a nice vacation. Raise your kids well. Participate in your community. Take care of yourself. Be an anonymous philanthropist.


PaulW 08.01.08 at 4:52 pm

The ‘winning the lotto’ fantasy is a lot of escapist fantasy to it, the desire to leave behind a drudgery or mind-numbing lifestyle. From what I’ve seen and heard with the Florida Lotto and how the winners end up in more dire straits when all their winnings burn up – due to friends and family members and con artists showing up on the doorstep with their hands out – so it turns out the fantasy still require some thought to make it actually work out well.

If I did ever win the Lotto (by the by, I only start playing after it hits the $10 million mark), my fantasy plays out as: pay off debts, pay off mortgage, set up trust funds for my nephews and niece’s colleges, move into a nicer home, and set up a trust fund for myself to prevent me from over-indulging, live off a stipend of sorts. Starting a small local business sounds about right: keep myself busy but at least at something I’d like to do.


Dave 08.01.08 at 5:45 pm

@28: if you want to start a business just to keep yourself busy, why not just go around giving money to random strangers? Or take up yachting, widely known as “standing fully dressed under a cold shower, tearing up ten-pound notes…” My point being, there are both more direct, and more entertaining, ways to throw away money. ‘Hobby business’ is an oxymoron.


Matthew Kuzma 08.01.08 at 6:37 pm

I think you’ve hit on why it’s a rather cliche’d guidance counselor question.


W. Kiernan 08.02.08 at 12:38 am

I’m a construction worker! What the Hell do you think I’d do? I’ve worked enough; I’d work again in the next life. Desert island, here I come.


dilbert dogbert 08.02.08 at 2:16 am

If you can’t have a Gulfstream to hell with it.
A friend of mine’s son-in-law has one on order with delivery in a couple of years. Yes, there is a waiting list.
We are going skiing at his place in Sun Valley this winter. We will get a peek at how the really rich live. Glad they share.
On the lottery thing: Horse property in Woodside California and enough money in reserve to cover taxes, maintenance, gardeners, house maids, stable hands and some really good wine.


smmyray 08.02.08 at 11:28 pm

I would be interested in making a lump sum of money in this amount as sustainable as possible through investments, gifts, etc. In some small way, this would give me what I’d really want and that would be keep “winning the lottery” for the rest of your life. After all, this is what people
that make, say, 4.9 million dollars a month do, and I can definitely see the capitalistic, moralistic value in attempting to do such a thing.


bad Jim 08.03.08 at 8:15 am

I’ve got almost exactly the amount of money Maria’s talking about, and enough of it is invested in bonds to provide me with a decent professional salary, about $100k/yr. I live with my superannuated mother, who gets Social Security (about $1k/mo) and a comparable annuity, who also owns a very nice house with a big yard on top of a tall hill overlooking the Pacific.

What it means in practice is that, after filling the bird feeders and making coffee and bringing in the papers, recycling their plastic wrappings and separating the advertising sections, I harry and cajole her, every day, to get dressed so that we can drive downtown in my fine, 9yo sports car, whipping expertly down the hairpin turn. She has a small mocha and I have a double expresso and a cigarette. We walk along the boardwalk. She exclaims over the toddlers, the homeless, the pigeons and the seagulls and I ogle the bikinis. We sit for a little while, then we get some lunch: she gets chicken quesadillas, bacon-wrapped scallops, tuna sandwiches, chicken curry, whatever she wants. I indulge my taste for pork and lamb to the extent I can.

Then we go home, she fills the hummingbird feeders, loads the dishwasher, watches PBS and baseball or basketball until I drag myself away from my blog addiction and then together we’ll watch whatever the Tivo has captured, or we’ll listen to a CD. Meanwhile we’ll drink a lot. She gets lemon vodka, I get red wine.

This isn’t the life I chose, just the one I wound up with. My first choice would probably be not to share what short time I have left with an elderly woman. On the other hand, few other dates would nearly be as enthusiastic about chamber music.


Katherine 08.03.08 at 6:01 pm

At the risk of spoiling the thread – let’s be honest. Most of us, on winning a modest amount on the lottery would spend it on ourselves and our family and friends. Pay off mortgage, pay off a couple of other people’s mortgages maybe, take a really nice holiday or two, take other people on a really nice holiday or two. Perhap a couple of charities would get some small-but-gratefully-received lump sums, but let us not fool ourselves that we’d turn into magnanamous philanthropists.

Think of all the uber-rich trust-fund bunnies – what is the proportion of philanthropist to playboys/it-girls? What makes us any better?


Roy Belmont 08.03.08 at 7:19 pm

One difference might be whatever nurture/gene configurations got them those uber-rich trust funds in the first place.
Calling them “bunnies” is maybe unfair? It’s one of those culturally-sanctioned light bigotries like “trailer trash” or hillbilly”.
Kids who get warped and stunted by too much material comfort are just as innocent as kids who get warped by too little. Less immediately sympathetic, just like a morbidly obese person is less heart-rending than a starved-skinny one, though both can be desperately miserable, and both conditions traced to economic imbalance and cultural inequality.

Playing the game of capital accumulation as it’s laid out requires a ruthlessness and a sense of natural entitlement that goes way past wishful thinking or daydream, where most of us spend our millions.
People get rich by zeroing in on making money and keeping it.

Changes take place all along that path, but most successful accumulators of wealth are like successful athletes, total focus on the goal to the exclusion of all else. Their descendants are another story. Though privilege generally, when it isn’t inculcating guilt makes the privileged feel deserving, and provides them ready proof.
Whereas the rest of us may truly feel deserving, but have to accommodate the lack of material evidence for it.

The reasons for not having money are obviously way more scattered and indistinct than the reasons for having it. So out here in havenotville you’re going to see wider responses to wealth and how to disburse it than in the dens and lofts of big money.

What people actually do with lottery winnings…well the idea behind the lottery is anyone can win, if they play. So the bulk of those stats are from a group prone to playing, with commonality of a partial grasp of economic and mathematical realities and whatever’s made them hungry enough to play.

Whereas here the group is prone to cerebral exercise and status determined by intellectual and academic success. The overlap’s pretty small I reckon.

Still guessing but I’d wager the bulk of this readership would skew more generous than the average lottery winner or fortunate heir.


LogicGuru 08.03.08 at 11:59 pm

This is in euros, right?

Well then I’d quit my job, move to Italy and never do a lick of work again.

I’d spend all my time and energy making my life a work of art–decorating my home, collecting beautiful furniture, reading, learning languages, playing the piano, writing, painting, doing needlework, woodwork and crafts of every sort, visiting beautiful churches and getting stoned. I’d hire a secretary to take care of all the practical business of life and spend my time consuming and, to the extent that I was able, producing art.

I would be completely unproductive and never do a damn thing for anyone.


mpowell 08.04.08 at 12:36 am

I find it kind of cute that Maria seems to be under the impression that 3.2M is sufficient for much more than just providing a decent income. And the aversion to the annuity form of lottery payouts is also surprising. It’s an attempt to solve the problem others have brought up. Basically, at least half the people out there have no idea what to do with money, and they’re also the people who frequently win the lottery. And yeah, it doesn’t usually do them much good.

I think 3.2M Euro is really just the breaking point where I might think about doing more than just putting it into an investment account and slightly upgrading my lifestyle.

I actually really like my job since I don’t have too work too much. But there are a lot of other things I would also like to do that are incompatible with working full time.


aaron_m 08.04.08 at 7:58 am

I still find it cute that this many people so willingly and readily admit that they could not figure out how to do something slightly impressive with 3.2 million.



mpowell 08.04.08 at 3:13 pm

Okay aaron_m. Thank you for playing. You win the smart alec award on this thread. The problem is that you’re posts are inconsistent. On the one hand, you point out that with the income from 3.2M you could support a modest upper-middle income lifestyle. And you also write that you wouldn’t change much in your own life. But you also make fun of those who maintain that 3.2M is not enough to ‘do’ anything with. Well, here’s the point. There are plenty of things we could do with our lives that could be slightly impressive. 3.2M would give us the freedom to do it without incurring financial hardship, but we’re not talking about putting the money to use as an investment in any of these schemes. It’s not enough money to have any real impact in a business sense, and I think that’s what people are pointing out and that you seem to be missing. That’s what people mean when they say 3.2M is not enough to do anything with.

If you thought 3.2M was enough to make a real difference, let me point out that you could easily make this kind of money in the right profession. So if you really thought there was important charity work to be done on this basis, the right thing to do would be to go work in finance, busting your butt for 15 years, and then retire and go on to do great work with your 3.2. But it doesn’t work that way. 3.2 is enough to live, but not enough to make a big difference. Might as well just do a job you believe in and not sacrifice the 15 years.


aaron_m 08.04.08 at 4:05 pm


1) 3.2 “is not enough money to have any real impact in a business sense.” I assure you that lots of businesses & initiatives have been started and have had enormous impacts for far less. Maybe 3.2 is not enough to guarantee success in the face of utter incompetence, but apparently no amount of money can do that (I am sure the same example that comes to my mind comes to yours as well). The reason that most of the people that end up with 3.2 plus after 15 years of work do not make a difference with that kind of money is because they do not want to and not because it is nearly impossible to do so.

2) My posts are not inconsistent; you are just not reading them carefully. I said that I sometimes use the win the lottery fantasy as a mental tool in working towards getting to a place in my life where I would change very little. A kind of motivator/reality check tool (i.e. you don’t really need millions of dollars to achieve the things you want to achieve so stop making excuses). I also never claimed that I would aim for an average care free life in suburbia if I won the lotto. I was rejecting the claim by another poster that 3.2 million was not even enough to ensure a decent life + freedom to do what you want.

3) If anyone has won a prize it is you with your comment ‘I find it kind of cute that Maria seems to be under the impression.’ I seriously doubt you would have chosen the same phrasing if the post had been written by a male (although I am sure you will make the claim). Step back for a second and think about what your phrasing is suggesting and how it is received in the ears of others.


mpowell 08.04.08 at 5:05 pm

Aaron_m, you’re right that I should have used a different word. I apologize for choosing a word that created that connotation. But I still think it’s a little silly to talk about how you are suddenly going to have aspirations to really make a difference in the world now that you have 3.2M. And silly would have been a better word to use; perhaps more negative, but less condescending. Yes, you can start a business for less, but the business isn’t going to succeed because of the presence or lack of startup capital. It’s going to succeed because of the work you put into. Now if you went out tomorrow looking for 3.2M in capital, you probably wouldn’t be able to find it. But if 3.2M was all you actually needed to make your idea work, after spending time developing the right kind of reputation I think most people could eventually get that kind of funding (if they’re competent enough that they really could do something with it). But then we’re at the same place that we started; would 3.2M change anything for you? If it would, you should try to go about raising it, not day dream about winning the lottery. My point is that the sum needs to be much larger before we’re talking about the kind of money where direct investment is really going to have an impact that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to achieve in your life.

But ultimately, I’m not sure we’d disagree on these specific points. I think your primary purpose here is just to make fun of people who you think imply, through their comments, that a middle income lifestyle would not qualify as sufficient freedom for them to abandon paying work they don’t find otherwise rewarding. In which case you should just say so and not be so snide about it.


aaron_m 08.04.08 at 5:33 pm

It seems to me that I am responding to the snide comment ‘you people that think 3.2 million can get you anywhere are being silly and do not know anything about money, business, or what the cost of a real life is,’ which has been repeated several times.

If I have a slightly depreciatory tone it is to highlight what I have perceived to be the vainglorious character of some of the replies here. Of course I should be nicer…


mpowell 08.04.08 at 6:06 pm

Okay, I think there was some pessimism and downplaying of the quality of life improvements that 3.2M would buy, I’ll agree. But I think when people emphasized that 3.2M is not a significant sum of money in the context of running a small business or charity, they are pretty much right on the money. So whereas Dan Simon’s comments in 6 are unduly negative Turnipseed’s comments in 4 and 28, with regards to the cost of business operations, are perfectly appropriate. The whole point is that there is not nearly as much qualitative difference between 500K and 3.2M as the original post surmises.


aaron_m 08.04.08 at 6:28 pm


But although I agree with the point on the dif between 500k and 3.2m in relation to starting a business I take the point of the original post to be that 3.2m is enough for the more risk aversive person to throw say 500 000 into something. The dif between 3.2 and 500 is not for the business but for the individual, and an individual’s sense of their own safety net makes a huge difference to what they think they can pull off.


mpowell 08.04.08 at 6:34 pm

That seems like a fair point. If you have enough in the bank, you might be willing to risk a decent number of working years as an entrepreneur of sorts pursuing projects that may never yield any personal income for you. I can buy that. That’s a little different than what the original post was suggesting, and it wasn’t very obvious in your original comments, but it’s a good point. But I’m not sure anyone else is paying attention at this point, unfortunately. ;)


Righteous Bubba 08.04.08 at 7:37 pm

I’m paying attention and clearly Macs are better than PCs.


abb1 08.04.08 at 8:44 pm

It’s enough to buy 3.2 million lottery tickets. Double or nothin’, baby!


Danny Yee 08.05.08 at 1:18 am

When I visited India in 1998, with an Oxfam study tour, I saw projects that cost $10,000 or so a year to run but which were making a huge difference to the lives of several hundred women. I didn’t really document this well, but my travelogue is at http://danny.oz.au/travel/1998/clp/

There’s no mysterious point at which a sum of money becomes “enough to do something substantial with” – you may have more options with more money, but scale effects with returns on investment (financial or otherwise) are still continuous.


MQ 08.06.08 at 4:55 am

Wow, this is a fascinating comment thread. Really a lot here.

A few million isn’t the kind of money where you can hire a ton of people to do stuff for you, but it will give you enough to really see what you yourself can do with total financial security to take risks and enough to hire the advice or buy the tools you need. So it’s an interesting challenge.

I don’t really know what I would do. There are a few crazy/risky nonprofit ideas I have that I might take a shot at if I had more money, but I might decide they were still impractical. I vaguely dream about career changes, but I suspect I’d decide that was a grass is greener thing. I might just make a happier version of me — my current general type of work, but arrange to telecommute from my favorite place to live, etc.

I know quite a number of academics who wouldn’t change a thing if they won the lottery. Really successful, driven academics are pretty happy with themselves and their lives.

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