Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bill Gates, American Idol


Sometimes I get a little fuzzy on the money people make and especially on the inequality that always shakes out in the process. Americans, of course, hardly ever think it’s wrong to make so much money you can’t even figure out how many zeroes to use in calculating your annual take. We think it’s some sort of a God-given right that if we’re cute enough, clever enough, smart enough, or lucky enough to take in a bundle there ought to be no limits on how big that bundle is.

No, I am not a Communist.

But two things struck me the other day that got me thinking about money. One, I read that Tom Cruise had made sixty-seven million dollars last year. Two, I saw the story on television about how Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft (full disclosure: I use Windows XP), is so wealthy that he’s had to quit his job at the age of fifty in order to devote the rest of his life to giving his money away.

About Tom Cruise I won’t say anything. He’s a whacko disciple of a whacko religion who got lucky. I like to think I’m as cute as he is but I didn’t get lucky so what the hell.

With respect to Bill Gates, though, I did some quick calculations based on published figures and it looks as though he’s going to have to find a way to get rid of about two-million dollars a day before his foundation goes broke (the foundation, mind you; that’s not his personal income). Yes, I know, we should all have that problem, but it really is a problem.

If I had that kind of money to give away I’d start with all those heartbreaking pleas I get in the mail telling me that if I could come up with $35 they’d be ever so appreciative. Then I might do a kindness to some literary magazines because they’re cool and have sustained my writing for a long time. My relatives – of course (houses, cars, iPods, puppies, the works). I’d fund some diseases but I get a little testy about that. Diseases often kill us and protecting us from the things that might kill us is the job of government – one they ought to do better than they’ve been doing.

Still, I think it’s nice that Mr. Gates is doing that. I think it would be nice if we could all do that, but I wonder if it isn’t time maybe to put a little cap on income – you know, hit a certain point and the rest has to go to the charity of your choice, or we might ask you to fund a state government or two or maybe a couple dozen small towns.

Certainly, the cap could be generous. We wouldn’t, after all, want to discourage the kind of overachievers who gave us the eighteen-wheeler or genetically-engineered corn or American Idol or the thong panty or chicken nuggets or telemarketing or athletic steroids, so I won’t set a figure here.

But how hard would that be?

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