According to Harris Poll published August of this year, the answer to the above question is 60% of Americans. Six out of ten American adults want to become a billionaire one day. Since I work with people and their money every day, and I am pretty good at math, I know by just glancing at this headline that this is not even remotely in the sphere of the realm of possibility for most Americans. I would further conclude that six out of ten people taking the Harris survey are complete imbeciles (I was going to say idiots, but that would be disparaging to actual idiots).
I am curious as to the outcome if the Harris Group asked Americans, “How many of you would like to be a shiny red fire engine?” Or “Who would like to summer on the formerly known planet of Pluto?”
Strong language and opinions Brian, why don’t you settle down a bit? This may be what some of you are thinking, indulge me if you will as I work through a story problem to help illustrate the absurdity of the conclusion of this poll.
First off, I feel the need to establish the fact that I firmly believe that we have the power to control our destiny and influence the outcome of our hard work. I am not a naysayer, nor would I be the one to burst anyone’s audacious goals. I would, however, be one of the first people to help establish a grasp on reality. If I or an arthritic, 5-foot 4 inch, 72-year-old client told me that their plan was to make the next Men’s U.S. Olympic Basketball team, I would be remiss and guilty of contributing to a delusional fantasy if I did not point out the obstacles between them and their goal. The reality of the basketball scenario is much more likely than an ambitious 30-year-old, just starting her career, becoming a billionaire.
Back to the story problem. Let’s say that you are really good at what you do, and you are paid a generous salary of one million dollars every year for your 30-year career. That is a very generous first assumption. Let’s say that you are a diligent saver and are able to save half of your annual salary every year. Let’s also say that you are an expert investor and you have bested the returns of the stock market for every year of those 30 years and earned a whopping 12% year in and year out on your investment. Let’s also assume, because you have indulged me so far in this example, that the government does not impose any tax on your earnings or your investment (I know, it is a fantasy world).
At the end of this career and when we go to the final statement of investment, the balance would equal $135,146,303. For sure, that is a lot of money and is nothing to sneeze at (whatever that means), but it is a far cry from a billion dollars. This person would need a total of 8 lifetimes in order to reach a billion dollars, or seven other friends they could convince to contribute to their fantasy. That 72-year-old is looking much more promising in the basketball uniform at this point.
In the old days, a millionaire was the guy with the monocle and top hat on the Monopoly box. I get it, that’s an outdated view of a millionaire, but the next step up from millionaire isn’t billionaire, there are many stops in between. A billion is one thousand million.
We have become desensitized to large numbers. Listening to any politician talk about this pet program or that pet program and that they only cost several hundred million dollars, or this tax will increase revenue by 20 billion dollars. We start to slowly allow these large numbers to enter into our psyche to the point that six out of ten Americans believe they can become a billionaire.
I return to my original premise; these people are imbeciles. By the time they discover how wildly they have miscalculated I will have perfected my job shot and will be working on my rebounding for the next Olympic basketball tryouts. As I have always said, and you can quote me on this, “math wins.”