Sunday, May 17, 2015

Baubles for Billionaires

I came up a little short in bidding for a Picasso painting the other day.

About $180 million short.

Picasso’s 1955 painting “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” sold for $179.4 million including fees at a sale in New York, where people have been known to spend that kind of money on a condo.

It’s probably just as well. My wife frowns on cubist portrayals of topless Algerian courtesans hanging above the fireplace.

As eyebrow raising as the selling price is, the Picasso falls short of the record. Another rendering of topless females, in this case a portrait of two Tahitian women painted by Paul Gauguin in 1892, sold privately for almost $300 million earlier this year, according to the New York Times. 

Outrageous? Perhaps. But as one observer remarked, "If you're rich and you've got a lovely house, you need to have nice things to hang on the wall.” 

All of this got me to thinking: If nice things for your walls isn't your cup of tea and you had $180 million burning a hole in your pocket, what else could you buy?

How about your own newspaper? The San Diego Union-Tribune was recently sold to the Los Angeles Times for $80 million. That would leave you $100 million to try to keep the place afloat for a couple of years.

Maybe a hotel is more to your liking. The 600-room Hotel Carter, just off New York's Times Square on West 43rd Street, and a three-time "winner" of Tripadvisor's dirtiest hotel in America survey, is going for $180 million. Think location, location, location.

The legendary and refurbished Ace Hotel in Los Angeles recently sold for $103 million. It was built by film luminaries Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith in 1927. 

How about a nice home?  Alas, you just missed out on a beauty.

Copper Beach Farm in Greenwich, Conn. just sold for $120 million. Since it was originally listed at $190,000,000 someone got a bargain. And what do you get for that kind of money?

Fifty private acres in Greenwich, featuring 4,000 feet of private frontage on Long Island Sound, a pair of offshore islands, and a 15,000-square-foot mansion built in 1896 with Victorian and French Renaissance influences.

Of note: the property was saddled with more than $120 million in debt, making it one of the most heavily mortgaged homes in American history, according to the New York Times.

Closer to home, there’s a 258-acre parcel up for sale in Bel-Air. Asking price: $125 million. And it’s not exactly shovel ready.

Want something in move-in condition?  Try La Villa Contenta, built on eight acres in Malibu and featuring 13 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms. The conversation starts at $60 million.

And a yacht is always good fun. The Aquarius, described as a beach club on the water, is just the thing for you and 16 of your guests.  If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. But if you must know, it’s $70,608,000.

If you want to get there faster, a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter military aircraft checks in at $180 million. Top speed: 1200 mph. Sidewinder missiles are extra.

These are mere baubles, of course. And ostentatious at that. If you really want to join the elite of the super wealthy, you give your money away.

A couple of well-known billionaires, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, started a campaign called the Giving Pledge to encourage the wealthiest people in the world to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

The campaign specifically focuses on billionaires.  It was reported in 2012 that “81 billionaires committed to giving at least half of their fortunes to charity.” As of January 2015, 128 billionaire or former billionaire individuals and couples have signed the pledge.

As Buffet famously remarked,I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing."

What’s that you say? You’re not in the Buffet/Gates league but you have a considerable chunk of change to spend?

Try these suggestions culled from the Internet:

---Malaria protection for millions. At a cost of $3 per net – which protect, on average, two people for 3-4 years – you could spend that Picasso money saving as many as 120 million people from this mosquito-borne, sometimes deadly infectious disease.

 ---Feed every hungry schoolchild in the United States for two days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture spends $2.93 to fully reimburse the cost of a free lunch through the National School Lunch Program, which helped about 31.6 million children every day in 2012. For $180 million, you could feed every one of those children a nourishing meal twice over.

---Immunize 9 million children. It only costs $20-$40 to immunize a child against the major preventable childhood diseases, according to UNICEF. With the cost of one Picasso, you could inoculate 9 million kids against deadly diseases like measles, diphtheria, and polio.

---Reduce the risk of HIV infection for 60 million people. It only costs $3 for antiretroviral drugs that can be administered at childbirth, reducing the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission by 70%-80%.

In the grand scheme of things, the joy of generosity offers a lot more long-term satisfaction than standing at the bridge of your yacht.

As Nelson Henderson wrote, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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