FROM THE BOQ: BUSINESS, POLITICS AND ETHICS #40

Another question from Gregory Stock’s book is this:

If an eccentric millionaire hired you to spend $10 million to help society, what would you do with the money?

Like the previous question I answered on this blog, this one needs an update, because it specifies an amount of money whose value has changed since Dr. Stock’s book was published in 1991.

According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, $10 million (ten million U.S. dollars) in 1991, would have the value of $17,466,960 (seventeen million, four hundred sixty-six thousand, nine hundred sixty U.S. dollars) today.  If I’m not mistaken, that rounds off to $17.5 million (seventeen and a half million U.S. dollars).

So the updated question is this:

If an eccentric millionaire hired you to spend $17.5 million to help society, what would you do with the money?

This is arguably one of the most challenging questions in the book–all because of one word:  spend.

If I were hired to donate the money, that would be easy.

Even if I were hired to invest the money, that would not be so hard.

But how could I help society by spending $17.5 million?

Could I buy a corporation, like Starbucks–then donate the profits to help society?

No.  Because Starbucks is a multi-billion-dollar corporation.  And so is virtually every other corporation in the United States.  With $17.5 million, I could only buy a small business, and whatever profits it earned (if any) could do almost nothing to help society.

What about a presidential campaign? 

After all, this country needs an independent president (not affiliated with any political party) more than ever before.  But I could not donate the $17.5 million to an independent candidate’s campaign–I could only spend it.  So I would have to run for President myself, in 2016, spending the money on my campaign. 

As the first independent president since George Washington, I could definitely help society.  But I’d have to win the 2016 election, in order to be President.  And this would take alot more money than $17.5 million.  So, unless my running mate were a billionaire, I (we) wouldn’t stand a chance against the candidates of the equally extremist, corrupt, powerful, and downright dangerous Republican and Democratic Parties of today. 

How, then, could I help society by spending $17.5 million?

The following paragraph, from The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, by M. Scott Peck, gives me an idea:

Just as time is important, other resources also make a difference in one’s ability to serve society.  Many simplistically misconstrue activism as a call to radical poverty, and thus reject it.  Working for the good of society need not be synonymous with a total sacrifice of one’s comfort.  Some years ago I read the proceedings of a conference of community activists in Nova Scotia.  One of the speakers, who had spent many years on the front lines of social action and volunteerism, said, “The greatest contribution you can make to the poor is by not becoming one of them.”  This statement may seem harsh, but out of my own experience it struck me, in part at least, as having the ring of truth.  FCE [the Foundation for Community Encouragement], for instance, has been able to do its peacemaking and poverty work only because it is a financially solvent non-profit organization.

The greatest contribution you can make to the poor is by not becoming one of them.

That does seem harsh!

But I agree with Dr. Peck, it has a ring of truth–I even say it is true.

It reminds me of this rhetorical question, from Luke 6 : 39:

Can the blind lead the blind?  shall they not both fall into the ditch?

In other words, your needs must be met before you can meet the needs of others.  You must be able to help yourself before you can help others.

The eccentric millionaire hires me, in Dr. Stock’s scenario, which implies that I would earn some money from him (or her).  But since there is no figure given, I don’t know how much pay I’d receive–if any.

And I live below the poverty line. 

So (assuming I’d get no pay at all) I would have to spend some of the $17.5 million on myself first–with the goal of rising above the poverty line–before I could help society with any of it.  My own needs would have to be met before I could meet the needs of others.  I would have to be able to help myself before I could help others.

And since I could only spend the money–not use it to pay my bills, etc.–I would have to first place the $17.5 million in a bank account.  Because this would take alot of time and thought–I couldn’t spend it all at once. 

If my employer agreed to this, how would I begin spending the money?

I won’t ever have to decide.

Because no eccentric millionaire is ever going to hire me to spend $17.5 million (or even $10 million) to help society.

I surely hope I’m wrong!

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