Billionaire problems

Charlie Stross asks: What could one billionaire do to make the world better?

Imagine you wake up one morning, you’ve been magically transformed. You’re 25 years old, healthy, with $100 billion in assets.

Now you have a problem, which is to maximize your chances of living out your lifespan happily, and dying of old age, in bed, sometime in the early 22d century. You need to stave off civilizational collapse, as well as avoid the kinds of violent revolution that leads to billionaires heads being separated from their bodies.

Historically, this has been a very real problem for the ruling classes. It’s the most important problem they face.

The twin answers they turn to are usually oppression, and bread-and-circuses for the masses. And that’s what we’re seeing play out in the US today: On the one hand: We’re ratcheting up surveillance, rationing healthcare and saturating the environment with guns to keep people afraid. We’re incarcerating more of our population than any other country in the world, and building walls and a secret police to keep out those nasty immigrants.

On the other hand: We have the best and greatest arts and entertainment industry the world has ever seen. We have socialized medicine, food, and shelter — for those in the military, police, and civil servants. And Donald Trump tours the nation, holding massive pep rallies to make his followers feel good about themselves.

However, historically this kind of system doesn’t last. It leads to the ruling classes’ heads being separated from their bodies. I’m now reading a history of the Russian Romanov dynasty, which went great for several centuries — although a couple of czars were assassinated — and finally ended with an entire family, including children, being bloodily murdered in a basement.

If you were magically transformed into a 25-year-old healthy billionaire, the risk is large that you’d end up like the Romanovs. Oppression is a risky bet. You’re better off devoting a fraction of your fortune to making the world a better place. You can easily spare a couple of billion dollars a year for that, while still having plenty left over for superyachts with luxury submarines and helicopters.

My answer would be to create a foundation to solve the problem of climate change, because if we don’t solve that problem, no other problems matter. And climate change solutions would have beneficial side-effects of generating more employment and mitigating world poverty.

More details on Stross’s thought experiment, and other people’s answers at the link:

Charlie’s Diary: Sucker bet (a thought experiment)