How to be more excellent to each other--and yourself
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Can't buy me love
I feel like T-Rex gets hung up on interpreting the question in a literal way, when one could phrase the question as, "How much money would it take to own everything on Earth that it is possible to own?" This includes: land, buildings and structures, intellectual property rights, sports teams, companies, vehicles, artwork, and probably lots of other things that I am forgetting. Assessing the value of these things is problematic, for two reasons.
The first is not all that important, and it is that some things are considered to be "priceless." Places like Christie's will estimate how much an item is going to sell for at an auction, but the "worth" of the item is determined only by how much someone is willing to pay for it. Suppose that a sculpture by Antonio Canova is up for sale, and the auction house expects it to sell for $300,000, while the people in the art world think it's maybe worth more than that but definitely not more than $500,000. I happen to be a fan of Antonio Canova, and in this hypothetical scenario, I also have a bunch of money laying around. The statue is not quite Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, but it's still fucking gorgeous. So, at auction, it ends up selling for $1.5 million, making everyone's jaw drop. No matter what the art world thinks the painting is worth, I wanted to own it badly enough I just spent $1.5 million on it, and at least one other person wanted it enough to spend more than $1 milion on it, maybe even several other people.
The second reason, though, is more important: willingness to sell. Stories abound of people who own something special, some MacGuffin, and are unwilling to sell it at any price. The only way you are going to get it is by taking it by force, or waiting for that person to die. So, continuing my hypothetical, ten years after I buy the Canova statue, a man comes to me saying that he wants to buy my statue. I say to him, "It's not for sale." "But I'll pay you ten million dollars for it." "Of all my worldly possessions, this is the one I am least willing to part with." Then we get to talking about the piece, and its history, and I say to him, "Do you see how the marble glows from inside when you put it in the sunlight?" "I do, and I really think that the piece belongs in a museum. Which is why I was trying to buy it from you."
"Then why didn't you just say so?" I ask.
"It would have made for a nice tax write-off, too. Paying ten million dollars for something that I turn around and donate."
So then I donate the statue to a museum, which is really what I should have done in the first place, and tell the guy to donate his ten million dollars to a charity of some kind. We have here achieved an even better outcome than the first one, because everyone gets what they want, and the ten million dollars probably goes to fighting homelessness and feeding poor people, whereas I just would have spent that money on cocaine and hookers.
On a side note, you cannot scientifically prove that people are wrong about feeling a particular way. You can attempt to reason with them and convince them that they are overreacting. You can also prove that their feelings are based on incorrect information, like a person who doesn't like the word "picnic" because they believe that used to be a word for lynchings. (It never was.)