I’ve always wondered this. Let’s say I had ten billion dollars. It doesn’t really have to be 10 billion dollars; it could be 1 billion dollars or 30 billion dollars The point being, it’s more money than I could ever imagine spending.
What would I do?
Of course, the easy answer is I’d give it all to charity, like the Gates’ or Buffets. But that’s way too cliche. I think the last thing the world needs is one more person trying to end world hunger.
I’ve imagined what I’d do often in the past, but never written it down. So I was intrigued today to read about the google foundation in the New York Times online. Apparently it’s for-profit, which is pretty cool and different for a foundation. Rather than giving money to charities, it’s funding startups that are doing socially “responsible” things (that’s a loaded term, but I think people can generally agree some things are responsible and some aren’t).
For example, it’s funding a startup that’s trying to develop a plug-in hybrid that can run on ethanol or gasoline.
So here’s what I’d do if I had a for-profit philanthropic arm funded to the tune of billions of dollars.
Develop An Alternative Fuel Infrastructure
You know how people always poke holes in the idea of hydrogen powered vehicles by saying there’s no infrastructure in place for it? Well, surely a couple billion dollars would be enough to get a pretty good start on the infrastructure.
Oh, I’m not saying it would be easy. Maybe you start by buying a gas station franchise, and pick a single local area to develop. You’d probably need to also invest in a company that is developing hydrogen cars.
And maybe hydrogen isn’t the right thing. So you could also hire some guys to do research into alternative fuels, and see if there’s a better option. Anyway, just do something to kickstart the whole “chicken and egg” problem of alternative fuels.
Build Some Of Those Changing World Technology Depolymerization Plants
I read about these plants a while back in Discover Magazine. Basically they take garbage, and turn them into oil and non-toxic byproducts. The problem is that at this point, they apparently aren’t profitable to run. But it’s a really cool idea, and if someone could run them for a while without worrying about making money, perhaps they could become profitable and make a difference.
They aren’t cheap, but then we’re pretending that I’ve got billions to blow!
Buy A Bunch Of Land
Well, this is bordering on charity. But do we really need to develop every square inch of land? I’m not sure how much money it would cost to buy a state. Probably too much, so I’d really just have to buy a county or something.
And I wouldn’t leave all of it undeveloped. I’d develop an acre right in the middle. That’s where I’ll build my house.
Buy A McDonalds Franchise
OK, that might sound a little weird. But I have a theory. There is this McDonalds in Cuba, New York that I used to drive by when I’d go to Ithaca to visit my brother. This was the world’s best McDonalds. I’d stop in even if I wasn’t hungry just because the food and service was so good. The cashiers smiled, the hamburger buns were soft, and the restrooms and tables were clean.
That’s not a typical McDonalds experience, but it was an experience that made me a repeat customer.
So I’d like to start a franchise, and pay my employees well, perhaps twice the minimum wage. That way I could insist on high quality employees. Yes, the payroll would increase but these employees would also be more productive. There would be more customers but the increased productivity could still keep the lines moving.
Maybe you could even charge a little more.
Anyway, I think that would be a cool experiment to try.
Start A Research Institution
I really like stuff, but I’m generally not smart enough to figure stuff out. So if I had billions of dollars, I’d hire smart people to figure out the stuff, and then they could tell me about it.
And since I’ve got billions of dollars to blow, they could research far out stuff. Dark matter, light matter, no matter. It really wouldn’t matter. Perhaps some of the things the smart people figured out would become profitable. My little research institution could even become self-sustaining!
I think there are companies like this. Gore, Bose, and maybe even google. They hire smart people and let them work on speculative projects. So it’s not impossible for this to work.
Those are just some ideas. I’m pretty sure I know what I wouldn’t do if I had billions of dollars.
I wouldn’t buy a sports team.
I wouldn’t buy a 200 foot yacht.
I wouldn’t fly to Paris for dinner.
I wouldn’t build a satellite that could reflect the sun’s light into a death ray, and use it to establish myself as the leader of a world-wide plutocracy.