Park Avenue and the One Percent

Park Avenue and the One Percent - picture of man with luggage walking from expensive sportscar to private jet

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As many of you probably know, Holly and I like to watch documentaries.  And that’s because we’re freakin’ nerds.  When you are living without cable television, you tend to watch whatever you can find.  Sue me.

Two Very Different Streets

Anyway, a few nights ago we watched a documentary called Park Avenue. The movie explored the economic differences between two entirely different Park Avenues- the one that billionaires call home on Park Avenue in Manhattan and the other in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the South Bronx.  The documentary talked about the growing gap between incomes the rich and poor and particularly that of the top 1% we hear so much about.  And it was shocking.  While I’m not necessarily a “redistribute the wealth” type of dude, the issue is worse than most people have ever imagined.

The film also takes a look at how the ultra-wealthy use politics and policy to accrue even more wealth for themselves.  By donating large sums of money to political campaigns, the ultra-rich are able to sway policy decisions in favor of their all consuming greedy self-interests.  They push for extremely low taxes and complete deregulation to improve their position at the cost of society.  The filmmakers call this donation process a form of “legalized bribery,” and it really is.

We’re all Greedy

I’m not here to debate tax policy and trickle down economics.  However, the movie really made me think about my own life.  After all, I love money as much as the next guy.  I like to earn it.  I like to have it.  And most of all, I love to save it.  I squirrel that shit away like a fat kid hiding Twinkies under his bed.

Heck, we write about money every day, so clearly we are greedy as well.  Still, I’d like to think that there is a point at which I would be happy with what I had. And it wouldn’t be billions of dollars.

To me, money is a tool.  Although I enjoy collecting it, the reason it is hard to pry a dime from my fingers isn’t because I love money itself. Instead, I crave the stability that our savings has provided for my family.  If you think about it, money in itself really isn’t worth that much.  Instead, it’s the flexibility and freedom that comes with it that is so attractive to so many.

It Might Be Time to Retire When……

While I understand why people save,  I just cannot comprehend having the overwhelming drive to turn 1 billion into 5 billion. Or 10 billion into 25 billion. It seems that the ultra-rich must also be ultra-paranoid if they are truly afraid they are going to run out at that point.  Although I’m not sure what it would take for us to retire, I know that I wouldn’t mindlessly pursue more wealth once I knew that we had enough.  Furthermore, I wouldn’t be actively seeking to manipulate public policy to accumulate an even bigger chunk of the pie.

How much money would it take for you to retire? Would you constantly strive to increase your fortune upon becoming rich, or would you choose to retire to your favorite beach instead?  Fire away in the comments below!

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  1. I’m a huge doc fan myself. I’ve not seen Park a Avenue yet so I’ll have to check it out. I couldn’t agree more with you about the value of money. I view money as a tool to create true freedom for myself. With enough, Jane and I will be able to pursue the creative activities that we want without fear of starving or losing our home. While the “game” of building wealth can be fun (your bank account is the score keeper) – it, in itself, is artificial. I believe that when we hit our magic number, both Jane and I will be happy to stop thinking about money altogether and start really living for ourselves. No need to strive for that second million.

  2. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    I saw that one last week. It blows my mind to see just how conniving the ultra rich can be. We need more Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s, people willing to give away their fortunes a la Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. It makes me sick to think that there are so many selfish people with that kind of money and all they care about is getting more of it.

    1. Yes, I think we need more Gates and Buffetts. Yeah, I totally don’t get using your influence to shape public policy when you already have more money than a third world country. Just retire on a beach somewhere! You won. It’s over!

  3. I could not agree more that it’s the flexibility and freedom that comes with having a sizable nest egg that’s keeping me on the quest to improve our financial situation. The money itself is just paper and coin- it’s the ability to be able to choose each day what my priorities are (rather than have my priorities set for me by an employer) that I/we really want.

    1. Yes, I agree. I don’t think I would want a billionaire lifestyle anyway. I like my life to be simple.

  4. I think many people get to the point, like you said, Greg, where there is tremendous fear involving their cash and money becomes a god of sorts to them. Freedom Thirty-Five wrote not too long ago about how some rich guy built a multi-billion dollar mansion, and we’ve all seen your story about the dreaded Siegels. But, like you, if we have our priorities straight and realize that money is simply a tool and that other things are SO much more important, a lot of that greed just doesn’t happen.

    1. The Siegels, lol. Yeah, I don’t know what was wrong with them either.

  5. I’m pretty sure these two things generally hold true for money and our human nature: 1) the more we get the more we want; 2) the more we get, the more fearful we become of losing it. I don’t believe the quest for ultra wealth is about having enough for retirement. It’s about freedom, power and influence (pretty much what it sounds like this show said), all of which may or may not necessarily be a bad thing. There are billionaires doing awesome things for society.

    1. I don’t think that anyone is arguing that some billionaires are doing good for society. The problem is that many other billionaires are improperly influencing society for their benefit.

  6. Ben made a point about Carnegie and Rockefeller and their donations however they were very greedy in their time. Most billionaires got there because of creating something that changed the world.
    Our nnumber is when our investment income matches our current income.

    1. I don’t really know what our number is but we will hopefully know when we get there.

  7. I watched this a few months ago and certainly got neighbor envy. Okay, maybe I’m not their neighbor but I do work on Park Ave so I’ve strolled by some of those massive apartments on occasion.

    Like you said, I’m not exactly in the redistribute wealth camp, but it it’s hard to justify seeing that kind of wealth and then walking up the same avenue and seeing the antithesis. I’m not sure I agree with the ultra-rich being the ultra-paranoid though. I think they’re the ultra-competitive. If you can make more, why not make more seems to be the mentality?

    A few other great documentaries you might like on Netflix are: Hank: 5 Years from the Brink, The One Percent, (I’m guessing/think you already watched Queen of Versailles) and then any of the Bloomberg Game Changers! The one on Warren Buffett is great of course as is the one on Jay Z and Mark Cuban.

    1. Maybe it is more competition and less paranoia. Who knows? I think you’re probably right that they just do it because they can.

  8. I don’t know that it’s just straight up greed and fear of losing money that motivates the ultra-rich to keep on accumulating. I think a lot of it has to do with power, influence, and control. The more that they have, the more they can control so many aspects of society and the millions of people within it. I think most of us would be happy with just enough to ensure a comfortable life- I know I would!

    1. Me too. I don’t understand the need to try to control millions of people.

  9. Like you, I love saving money. Or more realistically, I like having a lot of money saved. Sometimes I do think it’s an issue. After all, it’s easy to sit here and say that we’d be totally content with $1 billion or whatever, but how many people are there in the world who could look at us and wonder why we feel the need to have even more? Lots. So while I certainly hope there’s a point at which we feel like we have “enough”, I do question from time to time the healthiness of my desire to accumulate more even at my MUCH lower level of wealth than what you’re describing here.

    1. Saw that! Watched the trailer. I’ll have to check if it’s on Netflix.

  10. Very interesting topic…I’ll have to check out the documentary. I often wonder why the very rich never think they have enough money and constantly need to increase it…even at the expense of those who have much less than them. It’s just excessive wealth at some point.

    1. That’s how I feel. And people will always pipe and point out that they give so much to charity. But shouldn’t they? I mean, a billionaire who didn’t give to charity would have to be the biggest dick in the world.

  11. As with anything, there are people that will use their power to manipulate and then those that will use it for good. That is not to say that all are bad. I don’t think these people are fearful of their money, I think they just strive for success. Everyone loves success and if you are able to continually reach it, then why would you stop?

    I am going to be honest and say that if I was rich and had the opportunity to make more, I would do it. There are a thousand things you can do with money. I won’t stop trying to earn once I reach a certain point.

    1. I would just have to stop myself at a certain point. I enjoy leisure time way too much to continue working for no reason.

  12. I think our relationship with money is distinct from how much or little of it we have. I don’t see a huge difference in the mindsets of the ultra wealthy or the middle class, or the poor, at least as it relates to self interest and greed. Those are human characteristics.

    1. Perhaps, but it is kind of hard to compare the mindsets. Somebody with $1 billion could give 99% of their wealth away and still have a 10 million dollars. Somebody with $100,000 ends up with $1,000. So, while the biological drive may be similar, isn’t there a point where morality should take over? I don’t really know what that point is or if there should be one, I’m just posing the question.

  13. There is a big divide. But I’m not sure the billionaires are chasing more for paranoia of losing there own, but probably more for that power and influence you talk about. It’s great when you hear about the Gates and Buffets that are turning to philanthropy, because it means they actually ‘get’ that they have too much. Unfortunately we hear less about those with a lot of money doing a lot of good, and more often we hear about the Trumps of the world or the O’Leary’s, who just last week called Oxfam’s study on the global poverty divide as fantastic news because it inspires more people to look up to the 1%. Seriously?!!

    1. LOL wow! Yeah, I saw that stat–it was depressing. “Inspires people.” What a thing to say!
      I do believe that if you work hard, good things will come. But the idea that someday you, too, can be a part of the 1% is just BS.

      1. It is! The whole study was about how the 85 richest people in the world have as much money as the poorest 3.5 BILLION, correct? How many of those 3.5 billion will have any chance at accumulating real wealth. I’m sure that many would just love a roof over their head, proper medical care, and plenty of food.

  14. Will have to check this one out! ‘Money for Nothing’ is a really good doc that covers the topic of wealth inequality and the role The Federal Reserve plays in it. It’s kind of an angry watch, but, if anything, it’s a great basic history of the Fed and they affect our economy.

    1. We are totally gonna check that one out Kristin! Thanks for the recommendation!

  15. I like money as much as the next person, but I really changed my view on it when I became a financial advisor. I had wealthy clients who would say “When my portfolio is at $7MM I can retire.” $7MM?!? Really, you can’t live on less? Meanwhile, I had pro bono clients who were coming up on retirement with less than $100,000 in an IRA, and they felt “wealthy.” My life goal is to live a frugal and responsible lifestyle so that at the end of the day, the size of the nest egg will be irrelevant.

    1. I’d say we are striving toward a similar goal Shannon! Let’s make it happen.

  16. “Instead, it’s the flexibility and freedom that comes with it that is so attractive to so many.” — YES! That is exactly how I view money. If someone wanted to gift me a billion I wouldn’t decline it, but I also don’t need billions of dollars to be happy. 🙂 Money can give you a certain degree of flexibility and freedom … as long you make smart choices with it. And to me, that’s good news because you can live a good life as long as you make smart choices, regardless of whether or not you have billions of dollars. People forget that and focus on just accumulating and never feel satisfied.

    1. It is like chasing the wind. If all you are ever chasing is the number, you’ll never catch it.

  17. I’d end up somewhere in the middle. I would not work solely for the purpose of increasing my net worth but I would work as a speaker/coach/writer to help spread messages that I believe strongly in and make the world a better place (in my mind) when I leave than when I got here.

    No beach for me. Well… maybe I’d go, but I would just lounge around. 🙂

    1. Honestly, I’d have to find something to do with my time as well. But, I know there is a point that I will eventually get to where I will say enough is enough.

  18. I would like to say that once I reached that magical retirement number, I would be okay, but I like buffers. I probably have too much in my emergency fund as it is, mostly because I’m a worrier. However, that’s not in terms of billions, and I would also rather enjoy my free time and live simply.

    1. I like buffers too…but again, i’m not talking in billions. I think that is where the perspective is different.

  19. My income defines me as lower middle class and I struggle to save and invest so I can stay there and not slip down a level to just plain working poor. Working poor adults are poor seniors and that is here in Canada with our free health care and social service safety net.

    The middle class will soon be a thing of the past.

    I want to see this documentary because I love documentaries and I am very proud to say that I am also a nerd.

  20. I watched that doc too on netflix and it’s so gross how billionaires and politics jump in the same bed. It made me trust politics that much more. And there wasn’t a whole lot of trust there to begin with. I think those types of people lose as many billions as they make and it’s like me losing $5. I think their mind just works in a way I’ll never understand, nor do I want to. It’s the whole mo money mo problems thing. I’d just assume find a nice island and never have to work ever again.

    1. I just like simplicity and I know that a billion dollars wouldn’t be simple =/

  21. Very entertaining post Greg! The government can make very slight changes to the individual which can amount to enormous sums of money; 6 years ago our tax was 5% lower in the UK; a little difference to each purchase but billions of increased revenue for the gov!

  22. I have a pretty solid number in my head, and when I see our account hit that number, I’m done. Lol! I know I won’t need more than that so why keep chasing after money when I know we’ll be okay? I’m 100% in agreement with you, money is a tool that offers stability and security, and that’s what I value more than anything else. If I had $1 billion, I would certainly not spend my time scheming on how to get my hands on another billion. I’d be traveling and seeing the world and not worrying about money anymore 🙂

    1. Us too! At a certain point, I’d love to say we are making enough money to even quit the 9-5. That is a long way off, but we’ll see.

  23. 1) going to watch this documentary
    2) I just read an interesting article, that I’m blogging about later, a Canadian couple couple who are in their early 50’s (50 and 53 I believe) with a networth of over 4 million and this apparently isn’t enough for them…he lost his job and is basically freaking out because they don’t know how to give up their $5,000/month lifestyle on wine, golfing and personal grooming…seriously, I want to tell them to shut the hell up.

  24. I have to watch that documentary. They always upset me, but l still watch them anyway. I think for these folks, it’s all about power and how to get more. I always wonder just how much is enough for them? Being from Africa, l always joke and say we know who our enemies are ( the president on down). Here, it is so civilized, but the end result is the same, bribery and corruption. They need that power, look at Berlusconi, with all his gazillions , he still fights to get that power back instead of disappearing to an island with any or all of his underage girls and enjoying his money. I don’t need much, just enough to enjoy little pleasures. What thrills me no end is that all the money can’t buy them class. That queen of Versailles chick is still crass! I do like the husband though. He knows he has no class, but she thinks she does.

    1. Yeah, she thinks she is hot stuff. I heard she’s getting a reality show but I don’t know if there’s any truth to that.

  25. Having read most of Donald Trump’s books when I was in high school and soon after, I think some of the rich businessmen and women simply like the challenge of building companies and even more so building their wealth. It’s their “fun” so they usually see no reason to stop. Then again, I’m analyzing one billionaire and applying it to all billionaires, which obviously isn’t always true for each one.

    I would say a few million would for sure be enough for me and then I would retire and spend some time investing and whatnot. I really just want more time for my wife, family, and friends.

    1. Me too =) I would love to go on a permanent vacation with my kids.

    2. Oh, I agree D.C. I know Buffett sees it that way. The real problem I have, I guess, isn’t so much of the accumulation of the wealth. It is more in the use of that money to grab power and skew the rules of the game to further benefit their interests (and usually hurt the little guys).

  26. I’m with you. I want enough money to that I can be flexible and have options to get my through the rest of my life. Any more money than that is “icing on the cake” and would be used for other things. I don’t see the need to accrue billions and billions of dollars (though that would be cool) and saw laws and policies. Oh, and I’m adding this documentary to my list!

  27. I think it’s kind of in the same category of professional athletes or celebrities who have no one around them to ever say no or keep them in check with reality. Even politicians are that way to a certain extend. Remember when George Bush had no idea that gas was approaching $4/gallon? They get focused on what they want and maybe have no idea how everyone in the real world is living. Athletes and celebrities often crash because their careers are so short lived in many cases but the Wall Streeters are more educated and maybe have their money for generations. I’m not sure why some people like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey are not like that. Maybe it’s something to do with being first generation billionaires?

    1. That’s a good point. Maybe it is that they are first generation…

  28. I worked as a tax accountant and primarily worked on high net worth individuals. Most of my clients had effective tax rates of 10% or less. Unfortunately many people don’t bother to see HOW they are getting away with so much. I think if we better educated America about how the wealthy have manipulated the tax code there would be some serious changes.

    1. I totally agree. For one thing, the tax code is so complicated that people don’t understand 99% of it – including me. They just see the top tax bracket and think, wow they are getting taxed at a much higher rate than I am, rather than looking at their effective tax rate. So, while the 99% fights about which of them isn’t getting a fair shake, the 1% continue to fleece us all.

  29. Hi Greg,

    Good article. We watched Park Avenue as well and it brought up a lot of questions for us. Like you, we believe that we’d be content at some point. The below article by Sam Polk, a former Wall Street Trader, provides some insight into greed and how it may not be dissimilar from an addiction. I’d like to think we could control ourselves, but I suppose greed can be contagious.

    Of course, that’s not excuse. Good article and thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by John! I agree that there is such a thing as “wealth addiction.” I would also like to think I can control it, but who knows. Maybe not.

      Also, thanks for posting the article. It is a good read, and I suggest any other readers should check it out as well.

  30. Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to add it to my Netflix queue!

    While I can only imagine, I suspect when you reach that level of wealth you’re either continuing due to inertia, fear, or lust for power. In most cases, I would suspect lusty for power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely is clichéd because it’s true.

    For most, the more power you have, the more power you want.

    1. I guess that is probably the case. I just think it is important for people to realize that these things are happening, and we are letting them.

  31. I definitely don’t need a lot. I feel like I will never fully retire. I’ll always enjoy writing and working on the next project. Honestly I don’t know what I’d do with that much money. Seems like a lot of pressure haha.

    1. No kidding. I’m not sure what I’d do with it either…and like you, I’ll probably always do something.

  32. I would be interested in hearing more about this. I have never been to either Park Avenues; there is really a huge divide, though.

    As to retirement I think I would need at least $1M to retire comfortably.

    1. The divide is almost too large to comprehend. It is crazy!

  33. While it is tough to redistribute wealth in today’s economic climate (due to the ease of moving business structures to more favorable countries vis a vis globalization), I do agree that the public purse has been defunded to a degree that is unprecedented in modern history. It is a dangerous experiment with very real consequences, so I would like to see some reform to help the least among us. After all, its says to the world who we are by how we treat the unfortunate!

    1. But what would that reform be? That is scary as well!

  34. I don’t think I’m ever going to want to retire. If I do become rich, I want to start a charity and fund kids in poor countries to go to school.

    1. That is a very nice goal Troy! I hope that it comes true for you.

  35. With great wealth comes great power. I think that’s why some of these moguls continue to add to their piles of cash. They crave the power. Just look at the power that Rupert Murdoch and his family have. He can sway billions of people with his Fox media assets. Too bad so many people are happy to be swayed by propaganda.

    My wife and I figure we will call it quits when we have $2.4 million in investable assets.

  36. Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans says:

    I like to think that I would be the same way – once I reach a certain amount, I would just be satisfied with it instead of obsessively trying to grow money that is already more than enough. Like you said, it’s not that I love MONEY, it’s that I love the freedom and security it brings. Having “enough” is just a word that doesn’t seem to click for the ultra-rich.

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