Looking back at the past month in business news, there has been a recurring theme: Billionaires Are Bad. No need to name names. Let’s just say that anyone who regularly interacts with the world on Twitter or invests in crypto was thrown upside down in November.
But is it money that makes the super rich act or would they act the same if they were ordinary people who changed their wallets? “Usually, the way we think about humanity is fixed. It fluctuates a little throughout life but it doesn’t change much,” said Sandra Matz, David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.
Natasha Knox’s high net worth clients have limited opportunities up to $50 million. The principle of Alaphia Financial Wellness says that with more wealth does not come a new personality. Instead, people just keep being who they used to be. “So if a person has a lot of fear around money … and is very suspicious of everyone and everything, the sudden increase in wealth will exacerbate that,” says Knox.
Matz says another driver that can change things on the human front is the big change in life, let’s say that it comes in millions of dollars instead of suddenly. (We’ll come back to that in a billion seconds.) For some people this change can make them feel more comfortable after seeking out experiences like traveling the world and seeing other cultures. For others? It can be very disruptive to people’s relationships when people are always “burdening you for money.” [and] suddenly the whole culture of society changes,” says Matz. “You can think that it affects your personality because you are very suspicious of people. Now, suddenly, it’s all about money.
The emergency economy, says Knox, also often surprises people because of the “problems it doesn’t solve.” Also, he adds, more money means more options and the dilemma of choice can leave some people indifferent.
Matz’s current area of research focuses on technology businesses that can successfully exit their industry. So, actually, not the criminals in question. Successful people, says Matz, “are small in mind, and therefore people.” [who] they are stable in mind.” They also tend to be very careful breeds.
The problem with the multibillionaires may start with Silicon Valley’s fast-and-broken-things culture that “leaves the door wide open for all these entrepreneurs who have a little interest,” says Matz. This happy world “doesn’t just want people to think about what will make things go well for a long time.”
Much of what Matz has learned contradicts what Clay Cockrell, a licensed physical therapist and founder of Walk and Talk Therapy, sees in his practice. Cockrell specializes in the mental health of the super-rich and their families (including real-life billionaires). When people make a lot of money quickly, “I often see a lot of fear. They realize that they are out of their depth and they don’t know what to do. Often they have worked all their lives for this event and now they have lost a little.”
Some worry that they will lose the money as quickly as they earned it or that they will be separated from their friends, says Cockrell, “it is very difficult. There are others who drink excessively, give large gifts, etc. until they realize how this affects their relationship and discover new powerful forces.”
Weight loss, he adds, doesn’t have the same power. “It’s a slow economy, you have a chance to get used to it over time. With sudden wealth, they’re thrown into a world they don’t know anything about—which can lead to isolation, depression, guilt, shame, etc.”
But does that obsession make the newly wealthy take risks, act recklessly or, perhaps, feel insensitive? “Finding people [money] In a very short period of time, they may suddenly want to take risks, like doing some kind of angel investing or investing in a friend’s business in areas they don’t know anything about,” says Knox.
So where does this leave our evil billionaires? In the end, we cannot blame their behavior on their billionaires. But maybe it doesn’t help anything.
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