MAD DOG: An Honest Day's Work

Bill Gates made almost $3 billion dollars the other day. Okay, it was really only $2.8 billion, but what's a few hundred million amongst friends?You're probably wondering how he managed to make that much money so quickly. Well, it's easy. He went into the office bright and early, put his nose to the grindstone, worked right through lunch, and didn't go home until he was satisfied that he'd put in an honest day's work. Just kidding. Actually it happened because some woman in Idaho installed Windows 95, setting off a chain reaction that included butterflies flapping their wings on a screen saver in India and El Nino warming up the air around a printer driver in Venezuela, proving once and for all that chaos theory is more than just an explanation for how the federal government works.Okay, the truth is Microsoft's stock did very well in the stock market that day, and since Gates owns 282 million shares of it -- or one for every software company he hopes to put out of business -- he managed to add a few bucks to his already huge net worth. This meant that, at least for the day, the 41 year-old Gates was worth an estimated $42 billion, making him the richest man in the world. Not bad for a guy with a bad haircut.To put this into a perspective us zero-impaired wage-earners can relate to, a number of years ago someone told me that the rule of thumb was that you could consider yourself successful if you made as much money as your age in thousands. Therefore if you were 21 years old and made $21,000 you were a success, if you hit 30 years old and were making over $30,000 you were a success, and so on. At that rate Bill Gates would be considered a success even if he was 3 million years old, which we all realize is ridiculous since that would have put him in Strom Thurmond's high school graduating class. As for me, I calculate my financial success in Dollars Per Dog Year: If I divide my income by seven and it's the same as my age in thousands I figure I'm doing okay. Rationalization can be a good thing.Here's another way to look at it: On the day Wall Street gave Bill Gates a $2.8 billion raise he was raking in the bucks at the rate of $125 million an hour, $2 million a minute, and $34,722 a second. That's not bad work when you consider the average hourly wage in the United States is about $16 an hour and Gates doesn't even have to pay union dues. If Bill had been in a real good mood that day he could have taken his new found wealth and given ten bucks to every man, woman and child in the United States and we could all have taken a longer lunch break without getting docked. Instead he'll probably blow it all by buying Europe.And who could blame him? Over there he appears to be worth even more than he is, if that's actually possible. Follow this closely. In the United States a billion is a thousand million, or one followed by nine zeros. In Britain, France, and Germany a billion is one followed by twelve zeros -- what we call a trillion. The reason the Europeans stick to this system is rather complicated, but it basically comes down to retribution for our refusing to adopt the metric system, for brewing so-called German beer which has less body than Kate Moss, and for continuing to make fun of the French for liking Jerry Lewis.But far be it for me to say that Bill Gates isn't worth all that money. After all, this is being written on a computer that's running two Microsoft programs simultaneously, something most computer experts insist is an impossibility without calling tech support. Besides, he isn't the only one making big bucks. Michael Eisner, CEO for Walt Disney, took home $14.8 million dollars in compensation last year. The chairman of the board of Campbell Soup made an mmmm-mmmm-good $6.6 million. Yet as leader of the largest country in the world with an embalmed leader on public display, Russia's Boris Yeltsin is probably asking "Is it borscht yet?" every time he cashes his Mickey Mouse paycheck -- a piddling $43,000 in annual income including salary, book sales, and interest on a savings account. Not including his vodka allowance, of course.Obviously Yeltsin's lifestyle is a little more Spartan than Gates'. While Yeltsin lives in a 3,500 square-foot state-owned apartment in Moscow, Gates is spending $40 million building a home on Lake Washington that includes a 20-car garage and a trout stream. But to be fair, Gates' fortune rises and falls with the stock market while Yeltsin continues to be paid in nearly worthless rubles. Just the other day, before I could even finish writing this, Gates' net worth dropped nearly $1 billion. Mine, on the other hand only fell $1.59. At least I thoroughly enjoyed that microwave burrito I had for lunch.


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