The world’s richest man, Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, drew media fire by stating that his primary home is worth $50,000. Would he have done better boasting of an Iron Man suit?
Billionaire Genius Playboy Philanthropist
At one point in a 2012 Marvel Avengers super-hero movie, the chemically-enhanced-but-anally-retentive Captain America tries to throw shade on Tony Stark a/k/a Iron Man.
“Big man in a suit of armor,” Captain America sneers at Stark in front of other Avengers, “Take that off, and what are you?”
Stark’s reply: “Billionaire genius playboy philanthropist.”
In truth, Elon Musk is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist.
So why must he tell us his primary home cost $50,000?
For the same reason we’re told that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos drives a Honda, that Warren Buffet lives in the same home he bought in 1958 (for a then middle-class $31,500), and that Bill Gates does the dishes each night at home after dinner.
Some baby boomers and Gen Xers might even recall coverage of Walmart Founder and multi-billionaire Sam Walton gallavanting with “Betty” — no, not his supermodel trophy wife — his Ford F150 pickup truck.
Buying Everything But Normalcy
The rich are different. And the hyper rich are very different. Luck may get you far, but not that far. Becoming a self-made deca-billionaire takes genius, indescribable will and nerve, and a killer instinct.
The hyper rich can in fact buy everything but normalcy. Elon Musk claims he’s selling most of his worldly possessions. But, he’s not giving them away. And he doesn’t need closets: so long as he holds onto his roughly $260 billion of Tesla and SpaceX shares, what could he possibly buy that he couldn’t afford to throw away after a single use?
And it’s not just that the rich are different. We view them differently.
Here’s a cheat sheet for decoding media coverage:
Mere billionaires often don’t mind blinding us with bling. They want us to believe they have everything one could want in life — and are enjoying the hell out of it.
Examples include Donald Trump, before the political bug bit him. They also include Virgin conglomerate founder Sir Richard Branson, famous for his joi de vivre.
It’s an act, of course. But it’s a great act. Like a Marvel Avengers movie, it offers excitement and escape.
When a Richard Branson sky dives, or races a Formula 1 car, or wind surfs with a naked supermodel clinging to his back, he gives us that momentary thrill of thinking, “I could be him…”
But the humblebrag deca-billionaires send a different message. They’re saying, “We could be you.”
No they couldn’t. Maybe the Bransons of the world give us fantasies, but at least they’re giving. The humblebrag deca-billionaires — as if they didn’t have enough already — still want to take, take our credulity.
“Don’t P*ss On My Leg And Tell Me It’s Raining”
More power to Elon Musk and the other deca-billionaires. What would life be without them designing, building, and running the engines that drive economic and technological progress?
But isn’t it odd that the real-life superheroes of business want to appear normal, while we want our cinematic superheroes to be anything but?
It doesn’t matter to me whether Elon Musk’s home costs $50,000, or $5 million, or $50 million.
And it doesn’t really matter to Musk.
What matters to him is that his home’s located in Florida, which has no state income tax.