As I’ve mentioned several times, bestselling economist Thomas Piketty believes that his theory proves that magazine lists of rich guys, such as Forbes‘ and Bloomberg’s, are incorrectly, even propagandistically, biased toward new money entrepreneurs and overlook lots and lots of Secret Old Money billionaires.
I’ve always found that a very interesting theory and often look for ways to test it.
One way to test it is to look for who owns things that rich guys like to buy, such as yachts, sports enterprises, movies, waterfront property, and personal golf courses.
For example, self-made Oracle founder Larry Ellison, #10 on Bloomberg’s Billionaires list with $52 billion, owns a 288-foot yacht, lots of expensive sailboats (he sponsored the last America’s Cup), an 18 hole personal golf course in the Palm Springs area, the Indian Wells pro tennis event, much land in Malibu, the Hawaiian island of Lanai, a MiG-29, and his daughter produces auteur movies (Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, etc.) and his son produces commercial movies like Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise (the Ellison name in the credits is a fairly positive indicator of quality).
Granted, Ellison, who goes in for a Bond Villain look, is more upfront about enjoying his vast wealth than many other billionaires. But my point is that being a billionaire tends to leave behind marks on the landscape, both metaphorical and actual.
For example, it’s impossible to hide a personal golf course in your yard from airplanes flying overhead.
As shown in the aerial shot above, in Southhampton on Long Island, for instance, are a couple of par 3 holes in the yard of an estate overlooking the National Golf Links of America, a landmark golf course designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1909. The mansion’s owner possesses for his personal enjoyment nearly perfect copies of NGLA’s famous Redan 4th hole (playing from the tee on the right of the photo to the right to left-sloping green on the left) and Short 6th hole (left to right).
Who owns this 35 acre estate? Well, “Ballyshear” was built shortly after the NGLA itself by Macdonald himself, with his right hand man Seth Raynor, himself a famous golf architect, doing the construction.
Ballyshear was purchased in 2011 for $20 million by crime-fighting billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose name doesn’t appear on the Bloomberg Billionaires lists, but who is currently ranked #8 on the Forbes 400.
Now it could be that Piketty’s Secret Old Money billionaires stick to underground recreations inside hollowed-out volcanoes or the like that you and I will never know about. But it would seem both reasonable and fun to expect Piketty to come up with some examples in support of his assumption that he seems to believe is integral to the rest of his theory.