On billionaires spoiling artists and the hard life of the super-rich

Do you remember rule number one of the courteous traveller? Ask for permission before taking someone’s picture. Some people are not very keen on being the star of your holidays in a forgotten corner of the world. Some even fear losing their soul to the flash.

I wonder what Sue Tilley’s thoughts are on the matter. If any.

And who’s Mrs Tilley? You will ask. Well, Roman Abramovich just spent some $33.6m of his pocket money on Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping painting. No change left for Wrigley chewing gum, now part-owned by Warren Buffet and Mars. See, I am not going to get into how billionaires waste/use their money, as any other mortal, I wish I had the money to buy paintings of (ironically) fat benefit workers, smoking dogs playing poker, or diamond incrusted skulls at twice the face value of the diamonds themselves.Why pay so much money for a painting? Let Pilar Ordovás, head of post war and contemporary art at Christie’s explain:

Freud’s high prices are due to the sheer uncompromising quality of the work, which sees the painstaking, detailed techniques of the Old Masters applied with a thoroughly modernist sensibility.


At 85, Mr Lucien Freud has the honour of being the creator of the most expensive painting ever sold in live of the painter. He might die in the next days of a major unstoppable laughing attack, but let’s wish the old man well.

Let’s be honest, scarcity economics are at play here. Billionaires just can’t help it, their large sums of money multiply overnight. If this particular painting is worth $33,6m while Mr Freud drinks afternoon tea, imagine when he parts the world of the living.

But just for a minute, think of the cost of your home insurance! The other day I was walking around town and I found this second-hand luxury auto dealer. They had a used Bugatti Veyron for £1.3m. Don’t have the cash on you? Not to worry, they will finance it for £37,000 a month. No need to talk about insurance here, as dubious as Top Gear is for a reliable source of information, Jeremy Clarkson tried to get the Veyron insured and no UK car insurer would dare to.

But again, that is exactly the point with the super-rich of this world we live in, they don’t need to think, let alone worry, about money. As the saying goes, have enough money so that you don’t have to worry about money.

From my humble middle class mind, for years I have been asking other middle class people what they would do if they suddenly escaped from the rat race and they would start having a net income flow of, let’s say, £50,000 per week or its equivalent in any other currency.

As hard as I try, I never make ends not meet. OK, you get yourself a nice big house, sports cars, expensive designer clothes, fancy holidays, lunches at the Ivy’s of the world, exclusive country club memberships, a nice big house, sports cars, expensive designer clothes… hang on, I have already spent there! And guess what, I went to a paradise little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for two weeks and by the time I got back, I had an extra £100k plus interest in my account! Oh, the marvels of compound interest!

See, we the masses cannot grasp to understand how hard it is for the billionaires of this world to say goodbye for good to their money. No matter what they do or how bad their investments are, the moment you wake up, you are back to square one.

Ask anybody, and they would tell you something in the line of “just give me the money and I will show you how to spend it”. Yeah, sure, definitely the words of a poor man.

What takes us back to the “problem” of spending money when you have enough to live 1,000 lives like a king.

Sure enough, most of the world billionaires, especially in Western countries, head for noble and charitable causes. Look at Bill Gates, once the richest man in the world and now not far behind, he even set up one of the most successful and charitable organisations in the world, The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. His bridge billionaire mate, Warren Buffet, even pledged to leave to the foundation most of his own personal wealth.

But is it fair for us, poor and middle classes, to demand successful and rich women and men of the world to be charitable with the rest of us?

I don’t think so. As much as I appreciate George Soro’s Open Society movement, he made a fortune betting against worldwide currencies and betting right. The new political version of himself, trying to open up societies in the world through the NGO model, make me think how much more effective would be to use his famous money market tricks to take tyranny after tyranny down to their knees and force political change.

All in all, I guess that the current upward trend on art markets, art funds (even an antic violin fund has been set up) is just the answer to billions left after invested, re-invested, spent, wasted and given away.

A good example is Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, considered by some as one of the greatest investors of our time and for many other one of the worse investors of our time. How can that be possible? Do we have here a good example of someone with too much money and too little ideas? I wonder if he already bought Mrs Tilley underwear for an undisclosed sum. Who knows, a few years from now it might be worth a fortune.

As a Thai friend told me a short while ago, “as common as money”.



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