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[flagged] Why Are Young Billionaires So Boring? (bloomberg.com)
68 points by pdog on July 9, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

So....young billionaires are boring because they're mostly in the tech industry and haven't seen as much hardship as past billionaires (because they have early access to a computer) seems to be the main thesis.


1) even the hardships by old billionaires seems to be temporary or brief, i.e. Warren Buffet finding a way to make thousands of dollars through his paper route at the age of only 15

2) The writer provides a single instance of a 'boring' young billionaire, being Mark Zuckerberg

3) The writer provides multiple counterpoint examples to the thesis in the text with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sergey Brin as being tech billionaires that came from nothing.

I wouldn't be too surprised if there wasn't some truth to the thesis (although 'boring' is a loaded and subjective term to begin with), but the writer does a terrible job at defending their position.

I'm seeing a lot of these poorly written articles lately. Journalists have a preconceived point they want to make, make it in the headline, and then pretend they're writing something that supports it but not really supporting their thesis at all, counting on the fact that most people are only going to skim the article and not critically evaluate it so they can put their idea into people's heads 'Hey, young billionaires are all totes boring, right?", inception style.

>3) The writer provides multiple counterpoint examples to the thesis in the text with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sergey Brin as being tech billionaires that came from nothing.

They didn't come from nothing - Elon Musk was 'bullied' but was still fairly rich. Bezos may have been adopted, but his 'new' father was an engineer with Exxon, and he went to a relatively fancy high school ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Palmetto_High_School ), Brin is listed as an immigrant, but his father was professor of mathematics at University of Maryland, Brin also went to a reasonably fancy high school ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Roosevelt_High_School_... ). To me Brin, Bezos, Musk are far shots from the article's 'earlier' examples of people like Warren Buffett who grew up with unemployed parents.

Just a quick fact check. Howard Buffet was temporarily unemployed during the Great Depression. By the time Warren was 9 years old his father had a successful brokerage and was elected to the Omaha Board of Education. By the time he was 12 his father was elected to the US House. He went on to give Warren the initial investment for his investment company.

Warren didn’t grow up with unemployed parents.

Palmetto high school is one of the better public schools in Miami but Miami public school are pretty bad and under funded. Palmetto is far from an elite high schools where only rich people go.

Palmetto is the highest achieving public school in Miami-Dade county. It's no Bill Gates's Lakeside School or Zuck's Exeter, but it's where everyone in Dade County public schools who cares about academic excellence sends their kids if they can afford the nearby real estate.

I'm only basing it off of how the writer presented the argument. He didn't mention these facts, but he presented these as if they were also people with hard backgrounds, effectively arguing against his main point, which had only a single person he would point to in support of it.

Like I mentioned earlier, there's probably some truth to what he's arguing for, she just did a piss poor job making a case for her point.

DC area resident: Eleanor Roosevelt High School might be the best high school in Prince Georges County. I'm not sure that it counts as "reasonably fancy". Still, if your father is a professor of mathematics, high school may not matter that much.

It’s hilarious what passes for “self made” when you read stories about the wealthy.

> I'm seeing a lot of these poorly written articles lately. Journalists have a preconceived point they want to make, make it in the headline, and then pretend they're writing something that supports it but not really supporting their thesis at all, counting on the fact that most people are only going to skim the article and not critically evaluate it so they can put their idea into people's heads 'Hey, young billionaires are all totes boring, right?", inception style.

Honestly, though, isn't that what information is? You can try to make it perfect, but I bet you'd wind up inventing just as much new stuff as you would uncovering 'the truth'. It's a philosophical argument, what is perspective, what is understanding, what 'should' be conveyed versus what is simply being repeated, what has been discovered, what is the true representation of reality versus what is a selectively biased data set.

There's probably a balance of how much criticism a journalist can expect to obtain when they are looking to uncover something mundane and tailored to a crowd, versus something truly groundbreaking.

Honestly I think a lot of people are just exhausted from the internet. Everywhere you look, it's either extreme criticism on 'group think' or being uncertain whether to engage in agreement because agreement can be criticized as 'group think'. Then you get divergence of opinion, need to distinguish oneself, but you can be different in a billion ways and that still doesn't make every variation of different better than whatever base you opted out of, especially if that change is done in a lazy, circular, thoughtless fashion.

It's very circular. That doesn't necessarily make it bad. I don't think trying to speak out necessarily means one is trying to shove ideas into people's heads inception style. I honestly think if that's something you are afraid of, that's probably because you've entertained the thought at least once or twice yourself. And that sort of stuff just happens, being a fish of indeterminate size in a pond of indeterminate size.

My main point is if she wanted to make this point, she could spend a little more time digging for examples in favor of that point, of which I'm sure she would be able to find if she wanted to, and less time making the exact opposite point because these are the five CEOs she can name off the top of her head (that's an exaggeration, but that's how it came across).

I'm not saying her argument can be objectively proven or disproven. At best she can only show a correlation based on her definition of what constitutes a 'boring' life. But she should at least have tried to make the case she had chosen as best as she could (given a limited timeframe and a modicum of research). If this is the best she could come up with, I am not impressed.

Granted I made a generalization to journalists in general out of it, but that's just based on a handful of articles that have made dubious claims that I've bothered to take the time to read fully, and being disappointed in how weak the arguments seem to be (because I'd like to see a good argument for why I should consider those claims to be true, and accept those arguments, or at least think critically and thoughtfully about it, rather than being able to quickly dismiss what they say because they said almost nothing at all).

There was another one recently that claimed that Online Dating leads to Depression, and the text supports the assertion because A) Match.com did a user survey and found people thought online dating was addicting, and B) 'studies show' that addictive behavior can lead to depression. Therefore 'studies show' Online Dating leads to Depression, for the headline. Such a weak defense of their point, and they might as well have also said just about everything that can be addicting leads to depression at that point.

Yeah. I see it as part of the decline of journalism in general. This article is appropriate for some random person's blog, basically. There a few people might read it but they probably wouldn't reshare it, and the giant link filtering machine of the internet would ensure it dropped to the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly.

Because, as you say, she spends a lot of words to argue nothing at all (some nouveau riche had ordinary backgrounds and others didn't, tech nerds are boring men except they're interesting enough to write a whole article about them, this is sorta bad but actually sorta good, the non-boring histories I'm referring to are mostly imagined anyway, etc).

The only reason we're discussing such a nothing-burger of an article is that Bloomberg published it (the only article on Bloomberg by this person). This leads to the question of why? Apparently it's triggered by Zuckerberg overtaking Buffet's wealth - an news event worthy of maybe a paragraph of text. Should Bloomberg really be investing their resources here? Surely there are topics that deserve this level of effort more?

Just about everything that is an opinion can be deconstructed into a correlation.

If you don't want to agree with it, don't.

The difference between old school billionaires/big industrialists is PR.

In the old days, it was less of a science and was all about "big". Milk Bone dog biscuit ads 100 years ago featured a big picture of the factory.

Now, it's all about a carefully crafted image. There's a team of people making sure that only that crafted image, which is boring, appears in public. Some people like Elon Musk or Richard Branson are all about the personal brand show/cult of personality. Most people wouldn't recognize Sergey Brin.

The author acknowledges a raising standard of living in the piece. Could that not provide part of the explanation as to why the rags to riches stories aren't as common?

>even the hardships by old billionaires seems to be temporary or brief, i.e. Warren Buffet finding a way to make thousands of dollars through his paper route at the age of only 15

And growing up where news could take weeks to travel, no internet, a lot of 1-car households, a lot of 1-income households, diseases we've all but eradicated were still common place, a world war etc. Even if you aren't directly involved with those things, that makes a difference on your mindset.

The simple answer is...because they're all geeks who just got lucky.

They didn't need to work their backsides off to get to where they are. They just made a semi-decent product at the right time and money was thrown at them.

There are millions who just weren't there at the right time and probably far more flamboyant ones because the longer answer is the author is probably mixing up boring with stable.

> They didn't need to work their backsides off to get to where they are.

Isn't is possible that they got incredibly lucky AND worked their backsides off?

It should be clear that (1) abundant money and (2) abundant brains and (3) abundant luck are ALL necessary criteria for out-sized successes.

It’s also possible that hard work is not necessary for or predictive of success. There are tons of people who are hard working but unlucky, who are not successful. There are also plenty of people who are not hard working but at one point got their lucky break and are successful.

Hard working or not, it’s hard to find an example billionaire who, if you look back far enough, didn’t have some lucky event that enabled that success.

This. To whatever extent Mark Zuckerberg's success is attributable to luck, let's not forget that he's still probably one of the ten smartest people in the tech industry.

I'm not even sure I'd bet he's one of the ten smartest people at Facebook.

> he's still probably one of the ten smartest people in the tech industry.

That's absurd.

Is it? Depends how you define smart but Zuck has consistently made unconventional moves, very young, that turned out to be wildly correct.

He started by limiting Facebook to colleges so it could scale.

He was able to attract top class engineering talent to help him.

He entered a crowded market and obliterated all his competitors entirely through having a superior social networking product.

He retained control over his own company - avoiding the kind of agist outing that Larry Page and Sergey Brin experienced (i.e. investors who demanded "adult supervision" in the form of Eric Schmidt).

He convinced Instagram to sell, and made it profitable, apparently.

He convinced WhatsApp to sell and probably will make it profitable.

How many people in the tech industry can point to such a track record at all, let alone at Zuck's age? The guy doesn't only seriously understand tech. He also understands people.

He also made the right call by going all in on mobile at exactly the right time. And he has one of the best research teams in the industry.

For whatever missteps they've made, on the balance it's been absurdly well run.

I think he easily makes the list of the top ten smartest people in tech, along with Bezos, Scott Cook, Jonah Peretti, etc.

>The simple answer is...because they're all geeks who just got lucky.

I reached out to someone that is easily a peer of these types once and asked for advice, wanting to know what their secret was. Their reply was indeed that they were afraid it was was mostly luck.

That said, that individual is far more interesting than most of their peers (even those that are more successful financially).

A friend who was the co-founder of a very large company in the early 2000's that went public told me two things shortly after meeting him:

1) Take having fun seriously

2) Getting lucky is fine

I know he worked hard on things, but basically his point was that he was very lucky and in the right place at the right time.

IQ birth lottery + upper-middle class parents + being at the right place at right time

I think that's true for all of them except Bezos. I get the sense that, unlike the others, he's actually got some of the old-school visionary in him. But maybe that's just his mythical image.

How is he different from the others? Changing the world by selling products at a loss and making it up by avoiding sales tax?

How do you make up a loss by not charging sales tax?

If anyone can do it and it's just a matter of capitalizing on opportunity, then why did MySpace die while Facebook exploded?

This story is isn't really a story. The "evidence" the author cites that older billionaires are interesting is that William Buffet great up poor and had a paper route. Extrapolating from this, apparently, the author comes to the conclusion that other billionaires must be interesting.

But think, why is it that this article only talks about billionaires everyone already knows? Why not dig into some lesser known figures on the Forbes 500 and show how interesting they are?

Probably because, as the author mentions in passing, a lot of billionaires just inherited it. Which is about as boring a story as you can get.

>This story is isn't really a story. The "evidence" the author cites that older billionaires are interesting is that William Buffet great up poor and had a paper route. Extrapolating from this, apparently, the author comes to the conclusion that other billionaires must be interesting.

While that is certainly arguable there is a bit of truth there. Many of the billionaires/venture capital types got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time to leverage their private education and college education (in most cases anyway, sure some came from nothing) to develop an app or website that they sold for a mint then shotgunned little bits of their money at many other similar types making even more money off of a small percentage.

Most of them lack any 'real-world' experience. They've never wondered how to pay the light bill, they've never had to file personal bankruptcy, they've never worked manual labor jobs, many of them have probably never worked retail jobs. Most have never lost a parent in their youth or had a parent forced into retirement early via a disability, or had a disability themselves.

There's a lot of diversity that is missing from the money-holders in the Bay Area and similar locations. Don't get me wrong, some are doing awesome stuff through things like Effective Altruism but they are severely limited on their experiences.

I've dug graves for a living, my father died 12 days before my 13th birthday, my single mother had to retire early from disability after battling thyroid cancer and then having bone deterioration issues shortly thereafter. I was delivering papers 3 cents a piece around age 10 and working as many hours as I legally could by 16. Post my bankruptcy I was working as much as 90 hours a week some weeks for the better part of a year and didn't even break a gross of 6-figures. I have a vastly different set of experiences than Altman or Zuckerberg or Moskovitz and I still do, I make 32k a year after 12 years on the job, if you look at the S&P 500 returns since December of 09 someone with 3 million invested in any one of those years in a fund has made anywhere from 1.29x to 30.36x my annual gross income. I still have to worry about every cent I make, with a fraction of their wealth they can return from a fraction of their net worth. They live in an entirely different world than I do.

Hell if one of them had 10 million in SPYD the quarterly dividend last month would have grossed them 3.11x my annual gross income. When you have that much money, you have no real fears. You don't have to worry about saving for your future, you don't have to worry about the fact you might have to work until the day you die, you don't have to worry about what happens if you get sick and it ends up costing more than insurance will cover, you don't have the fear of 'how am I going to keep a roof over my head and eat' nagging at your heels.

When you never need to work another day in your life, I imagine it's pretty damn easy to settle into complacency and get boring. When you've never had the experience of hardship, you probably don't even think about such things. You worry about which charity you're going to give all your money to when you take the Bill & Melinda gates challenge. You look for the next Uber or chat app to throw a bunch of money at instead of thinking about ways you can make massive change in your life and those close to you.

I absolutely get where the article is coming from. A lack of experience of hardships can easily make you boring because you don't know what risk actually is.


I'd even add that I think anyone that wants to make a difference in the world, that has a net worth at or exceeding say 15 million+ should hire personal advisors from various income brackets and backgrounds. Say someone on disability (compensated with a livable wage which would exceed ant disability benefit), someone right at the poverty line, someone lower middle class. The rest they're already surrounded by, solid middle class and higher.

I think they should regularly bounce ideas off of these people and every 5-10 years replace them with new individuals with more recent experiences. Use diversity and hardship as a way to improve your ability to influence the world for the better both through your personal and business endeavors.

This is a long, meandering article with a pretty arbitrary notion of "self-made." It wants to lament both how old-school billionaires are getting rarer and decreasing class mobility. Both points are poorly made -- I read through it and it was a waste of time.

mostly generalizations based on a handful of examples

I don't know if we can say Zuckberg is boring compared to Buffet - it would seem to me an intraoffice messaging system is comparable to a paper route in terms of the required skills for either profession.

In regards to the need for opportunity, I fully agree with that - I was trying to teach myself to code at an early age, but the computer I was trying to teach myself QBASIC with didn't have enough memory to load the help file, and I didn't have access to any other resources growing up in a rural community in the late 90's. Reverse engineering Gorillas and Nibbles was beyond me without outside assistance, so it was wasn't until my late twenties that I was able to rediscover the passion of my youth and turn it into a (still growing) career.

Not clear from the article:

- What hardship / not-boring is (i.e. Buffet's father became a congressman when he was still in his formative years; but that doesn't count for Bezos because his adoptive father was well-off).

- What proportion of "old" billionaires come from it

- What proportion of "new" billionaires come from it

- The difference between the two proportions, and whether it is significant. A brief mention is made of inherited wealth (which is arguably the most boring, by the author's definition) but isn't discussed further.

- Why billionaires are used as the definition, given that exclusively analyzing outliers is probably a poor way to assess class mobility.

The article optimizes for words rather than clarity of thought.

Did Warren Buffet really know more hardship than today's young billionaires?

His father - one of the few college educated of his time - was already a stockbroker when Warren Buffet was a kid, and a member of the US Congress when Warren Bufffet was 12. Warren Buffet is white, male and of the "greatest generation" that went on to rule what became the most powerful country on Earth.

I get it that he wasn't born rich, but he was middle class just as much as today's billionaires.

Do other countries also have an obsession with rags to riches stories?

Our rags to riches archetype is steeped in the depression as well as transformation from a rural to city existence and the emergence of commerce (as opposed to sheer manufacturing) as the driving force.

We’re not there any more, the economy has evolved and different things are required and opportunities now lie elsewhere. But that’s not to say rags to riches has disappeared altogether, but it’s not spearheading the economy—and that’s not the US only. Look st where new billionaires come from in other places as well. That has changed too.

> Just above them on the list in age is Sean Parker, now 38, who took up programming early and interned at Zynga while he was still in high school.

Well done Bloomberg.

I'm looking forward to interning at Zynga when I was still in high school too someday.

What's the issue here? That Parker interned for Pincus directly, but not necessary for Zynga? Or that he's more well known for his role at Napster a year or two later? Or...?

Zynga was founded in 2007. If Parker is 38 now then he'd have been at high school 20 years ago, when Zynga didn't exist. It's a basic error anyone who did two seconds of fact checking on Wikipedia would have caught.

So this sentence makes the same point, but accurately, right?

"Just above them on the list in age is Sean Parker, now 38, who took up programming early and interned for Mark Pincus (later CEO of Zynga) while he was still in high school."

I think when historians seek to determine exactly why America failed they will have a really hard time understanding the psychology at work. After launching a wholly illegal and unnecessary war abroad that slaughtered a million innocent people and only empowered its enemies at the cost of ~6 trillion dollars, the country turned inward, becoming ever more isolationist, paranoid, fearful. Rather than save its middle class or, heck, even, rebuild its crumbling infrastructure, the elites set about dismantling democratic norms and looting the republic through regulatory capture and grossly irresponsible tax cuts.

But, and this is the key question, where were the people? Why didn't they act while their democracy was dismantled and the republic handed over to the wealthy?

Historians will have to conclude that there was a marvelous delusion at work; a blind faith that the very billionaires who had engineered one catastrophe after another were actually going to swoop in and save them. The people were literally on Facebook, "liking" and sharing propaganda stories like this that celebrate the very enemies of their democracy. Having lost all faith in their own government and themselves, the people now worried that their billionaire ruling class was... too boring.

This story misses a lot of points about the disadvantage that persists. It’s not that the wealth gap prevents people from buying computers. This hasn’t been true in US for over a decade - one can buy a fully programming capable machine for $300-$400. Better yet, you can rent Amazon or Google servers for a few cents at a time. I never imagined that as a kid.

Where there is will, there is a way. My first experience with computers was in a relic of Soviet Science agency, when I was 5. Until 2000s, it was a struggle just to get equipment to connect to the internet (pulse phone lines burned out tone dial-up modems).

The advantage I had is that I knew about computers and the power they held. I knew that math was the gateway to programming. I didn’t have funds for a fancy new IBM or Apple, but I had knowledge enough to make things work.

I still meet people today on a daily basis that regard computer work as some kind of borderline magic that they can never comprehend. This is the real disadvantage.

I mostly blame our education system and the teachers that tell kids it’s ok to not understand, that they are just “not good” at something.

If we can solve this attitude that mediocrity is ok, we’ll make a lot of peoples lives better.

your privilege is showing ;)

Seriously though. Lots of people are living pay check to pay check and drowning in payday loans just to get through the month. $300 isn't something that they have spare to blow on a computer. In this day and age there isn't even a need to - not when they can get a €100 Android phone that will give them internet access to do everything they want.

Of course... creating a business from a phone is all but impossible and this is why we don't see many people from poor backgrounds becoming tech billionaires.

That's an absurd theory.

Firstly, you can buy computers for $30 if you need to.

But even if you want to get a laptop instead, the difference between $300 and $100 is not significant if you care about saving for it. The idea that poor people can't afford a computer is delusional - I've been to regions of Mexico and China that are dirt poor and they have flat screen TVs. In fact I've encountered lots of TVs in places much poorer than the USA. If they can buy that they can buy a different kind of screen without a doubt. Poverty is not an excuse for a lack of computer knowledge these days. Back in the 1980's, sure.

I have gone without many meals as a kid, you don’t know what you are talking about.

Try living on less than $80 a month. We made it work and I got a good education.

I know someone who skips meals to make rent. She's about to start a second job, since her first can only give her 40 hours per week. A one-time $300-$400 could be life-changing for her.

Your larger point is still interesting, but it is still true that the wealth gap prevents people from buying computers.

Ok, there are public libraries in US in most places that have them. Most schools have at least a handful.

When I was going to school, we had one outdated 286 for hundreds of kids. Not until parents donated a few more were we able to build up a classroom with 5 machines.

US is so infinitely better off than most other places, it really bothers me how little we appreciate it. This same misery no longer is true in most of Eastern Europe, but still plays out daily in many other countries.

People there make it work, but knowledge does empower and many lack that knowledge.

It's a clickbait headline. The story is more reasonable, about more billionaires coming from middle class or better backgrounds.

This is what you'd expect with there being more middle-class Americans than there used to be. I don't think that makes their stories boring.

I suspect availability bias. It misses billionaires not in the tech industry, like Oprah Winfrey. (Not young, but what are some others?)

How do you define middle class? I think people going to these elite universities either are rich(!), exceptionally talented or both.

I'm not sure anyone in the rural area of my childhood would say that Zuckerberg's parents (psychiatrist, and dentist) were just "middle-class". I'm not saying he isn't talented, but he did have a software developer tutor him privately in the 1990s.

Well, I don't know about talented but I assume they did very well in school to get in.

Assuming they let you in at all, top universities tend to be pretty generous with financial aid.

What about all those Saudi princes and oil heirs. They don't seem boring.

In some ways, it's great to live in the age of the nerd. And it’s tough to mourn the decline of Wall Street-style corporate machismo. But a poor kid growing up today may find it much harder to emulate the life path of someone like Zuckerberg, who coded an instant messaging system before hitting puberty, than that of even Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who grew up in Brooklyn housing projects and at one point served concessions at Yankee Stadium to earn extra money.

Becoming a billionaire is a pretty high bar for success. ..what I think there are only 1000 of them.

Making a few millions is much more doable and till quite successful,. Someone could have bought Facebook stock in 202-2013 and turned $20k into $200k. Or Bitcoin. Stuff like that which does not require a genius IQ to make money . There are opportunities to make money all around.

> Today, Zuckerberg is a moral leader—a family man, and a donor to noble causes.

Facebook has a magic PR team.

Indeed, that jumped out at me as well. Whoever wrote that is either on the take or terribly uninformed.

Hardship is still a story that is told in the Startup world, because how else can you get talented young people grinding 120h/week on $40k with a high risk of the company going broke in the next 1-24 months?

> a widening chasm between the rich and everyone else also presents political problems

This is definitely something we're already seeing, with contempt between people of different educational levels, and the rising distrust between each other.

On a related point however, I'd just like to mention that nowadays, the Internet has made learning and information sooooo much more free and accessible. Although you have to have a computer in the first place, I think simple and cheap computers like chromebooks, or perhaps the smartphone you carry, allow you access to much more information than before.

Being in a family where our earnings are below the US poverty line in a high-cost area of residence, I am deeply appreciative of the wonderful people on the Internet that have opened up their information for free access, and especially to open-source for making programs and computing infinitely more accessible.

The problem with all this of course, is that you have to have a computer and a computing device in the first place. Internet can be very expensive, and can sometimes be easy for a lot of families to cut away because it may be perceived as unnecessary. The only solution I can think to that would be to provide free internet for everyone, and educate them on how to use it effectively beyond just the social media apps. Perhaps there are better ones?

A lot of the older billionaires who had more "interesting" backgrounds grew up during the Great Depression. A more likely explanation then, is that we simply didn't have a Great Depression 30 years ago for today's young billionaires to have grown up during. Zuckerberg and other young billionaires grew up in the 80s when the economy was pretty good.

Barriers to building wealth always existed. Large parts of the population had no chance to do what Buffet's dad did because of discrimination and other issues back then. Today it's a matter of the level of education you can afford to have access to.

The bootstrap mythos was always just that. There is typically a large degree of privilege and luck involved.

The reason this is a bad article is because you can essentially the the exact opposite article, and it'd still be as valid.

"The problem with today's billionaires is that they're too zany. The older generation of billionaires is much more stable, perhaps even a little bit boring. Look at Buffet and Gates working on eradicating disease, a boring, detailed task that improves the lives people. Look at <some other older guy> donating to <medical research>.

Meanwhile today's younger generation feels a need to be in the spotlight, gather followers, construct outlandish personas and constantly perform for the crowd. Notice Musk's launching a car into Mars orbit, Bezos' outlandish moon colonization plans, Jack Dorsey's fashion forrays, Zuckerburg's flying drone internet, Larry Page's flying cars. Where is their civic duty, boring causes, etc etc?"

Just recently Musk offered help in the Tham Luang cave rescue.

At the end of the day, a rich shopkeeper is still a shopkeeper. Nothing against shopkeepers, but I see no reason for any one of them to be more interesting than another.

"Well, I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog."

-- Mark Twain, "The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County"

Maybe because, besides being shopkeepers, they are also human beings?

Absolutely, my point being that there's no reason to expect them to be exceptional human beings.

There's no reason to expect more of them to be exceptional human beings than any other group. There's reason to expect some of them to be exceptional, just like any other group.

But I suspect that I'm not really disagreeing with you...

Is there such thing as a canonical definition of a boring or interesting upbringing?

Looking at my own life, some may find it fascinating, and some may find it banal.

And when I compare it to my father's or some of my friends, it can seem really tame. Compared against other friends, it could be riveting.

But I don't think I've met a person with a boring upbringing. Everyone has a story, a list of hurts and triumphs that add the seasoning of their life experience.

Assuming that the rich don't have these, or that they're required to enumerate them to the press is its own form of myopic elitism.

And, I know plenty of people with interesting backgrounds who grew up to be a net drain on society.

What are we measuring here, and really, who cares?

Dustin Moskovitz (number 5 at Facebook) and his wife Cari Tuna are very non-boring billionaires.


They started the Open Philanthropy Project, arguably the most exciting charitable organization on the planet.



In the article, "boring" just means poor. Zuck has his sins, but anyone who thinks Zuck is "boring" is crazy. The guy learned Mandarin as an adult, to make a business deal. That's more hustle than selling hot dogs at the stadium.

"unlike yesterday's titans, the newest of generation billionaires don’t have histories likely to assuage popular resentment."

Basically sums up the article. It's just another class warfare screed, full of half truths and misdirection.

The barriers to entry of learning to code are falling dramatically though. When I was a kid having a computer that cost several thousand dollars was table stakes, and even then in practice most of the kids who got beyond basics had parents who were also engineers.

These days a good enough computer costs less than $500, and in the last five years the free resources on the web have gotten good enough that anyone can teach themselves without needing any expensive classes. At most you might need another couple hundred dollars worth of books. At this point English literacy is probably a bigger barrier to entry than the monetary cost.

And you can get a refurbished Chromebook for as little as $110, walk to your nearest free Wi-Fi source (Starbucks, McDonalds, local library, whatever), and go to a site like REPL.it or Codecademy and start learning how to program.

Or get a used TI-85 for ~$30 and learn that way, which is how I learned the basics of programming, 25 years ago. Back then those cost about $250, adjusted for inflation. A Chromebook is much more versatile than that.

You can't walk into McDonald's and buy an introduction to Silicon Valley investors, and a depth chart of Harvard CS grads employees. Facebook was one of a dozen competing social networks, and they won largely because of Zuck's connections to capital and talent.

We seem very insistent on the value of hardship sometimes. But many of these people didn't grow up as poorly as the spirit of the article would make it seem. Seems like most had reasonable parents.

Not sure if anything really changed, billionaires were always very rare so there is going to be lots of randomness involved and it seems we just have more straightforward markers for privilege now.

The US is much richer than 80 years ago, so it’s way more likely than billionaires come from comfortable middle-class families, of which there are many more now. If Warren Buffett or any of the others mentioned had been born the year Mark Zuckerberg was born, they would have probably enjoyed a similar upbringing.

This article is ridiculous. Do you see many individuals in this wikipedia entry that started from a scrappy poor underclass? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World%27s_Billionaires#200...

> Today, Zuckerberg is a moral leader


Zuckerberg is anything but a moral leader, he's the polar opposite of a moral leader.

The anodyne personas of young billionaires is probably bought, trained and presented by sophisticated handlers. I'll bet the private lives of these people are very different to the public image, which is really important in a very puritanical and judgmental western world. CF Zuckerberg

What do you think Zuck does in private? We learned about what Kalanick did, and Cuban and Trump make no secret of their lifestyles; but heard no such things about Zuck.

Key takeaway from this article: someone at Bloomberg had to write a story on a deadline.

Editor: We're short one tech article for our website, I need you to do it!

Intern: But I don't know anything about tech!

Editor: Neither do I, but I'm sure if we put our heads together we can come up with something good!

Who cares about their boring pasts? I'm more concerned about their boring present. Say what you want about Elon Musk, but at least he's up to something. What's the point of having a billion dollars if not to develop wild ideas?

These guys are all like Samir in Office Space: "You know what I would do if I had a million dollars? I would invest half of it in low risk mutual funds and then take the other half over to my friend Asadulah who works in securities…"

As Michael responds, this is kind of missing the point.

Does Zuckerberg really think the best thing he could do with his life and $77 billion is to incrementally improve the effectiveness of advertising on Facebook? There's nothing else he can think of to do?

You seem to be confusing Zuckerberg with Facebook, Inc, and ignoring that Musk is both 13 years older than Zuckerberg, and that bringing 4 billion people onto the internet is "interesting". Musk cares about sci-fi things like going to Mars by himself, and making luxury cars in the crowded EV market; Zuck cares about doing something interesting for billions of people on Earth.

So often people talk about social mobility as in people rising to the top, I’d be interested to read about those who descend; illness, bad luck, or they just don’t want to be rich.

Any suggestions?

Perhaps I'm just not disciplined enough with money, but I know if I had that type of cash I'd definitely be doing some really interesting things artistically to push the scope and scale of art today. I'd love to see art of 10x the scale we see at Burning Man in cities around the world. The LED "art" we see in many parts of Manhattan for example is just terrible application of a medium/technique.

I'd love to build parks and spaces for people to connect, experience joy and explore. Of course, I'd want to do participate in philanthropy too, but there's something to be said for commissioning the art to define the 21st century.

Interesting how the article makes no note of the Collison brothers' and Stripe...that's a significant Valley success story that doesn't fit this mold

So tech billionaires are boring and everyone else isn't? Name five non-tech billionaires who are more knowledgeable or interesting than Musk. Or Gates.

They had no struggles, so maybe they're missing parts of life that let you quesion the status quo?

you have to be boring to not want to just have fun past your first few millions.

elon musk is the exception, as he just made money doing fun things.

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