What Do Billionaires Do?

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 53

What Do Billionaires Do?
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash


WELCOME BACK, INDIGNITY readers, and thank you for your patience! Here we are, on the Ghost platform, more or less. Our archives should be duplicated here now. Sometime in the next 48 hours, according to Google, the address indignity.net should lead to Ghost rather than to Substack

If you were reluctant to upgrade to a paid subscription before now, because you didn't want a cut of your money to go to questionable causes via Substack, DO NOT subscribe just yet. Unplugging the 10 percent money flow from Substack turns out to be a complicated process behind the scenes, and Ghost is still a week away from completing that part of the transfer. We will notify you when our subscriptions are finally unencumbered. 

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Trump building
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

What Do Billionaires Do?

DONALD TRUMP IS now officially one of the world's richest people, according to Bloomberg, which as of today listed him at No. 422 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The Bloomberg classifying system lists Trump's business as "real estate," and its capsule entry for him identifies him as the head of the Trump Organization, ​​"a real estate group and licensing business that owns office and retail space."

None of that is why Trump is on the list; he's on the list because of his stake in the Trump-centered social-media platform Truth Social, which through a shell-company merger began trading publicly this week, allowing Trump fans and supporters, and meme-stock chasers, to pump up its valuation to $9 billion. According to the Wall Street Journal, Truth Social, as a business, "posted about $5 million in sales and tens of millions in losses from its 2021 launch to September 2023."

Maybe the most concrete thing that can be said on Truth Social's behalf is that Trump has remained almost entirely faithful about posting there, even after Elon Musk restored his account on the platform formerly known as Twitter. Trump seems to sincerely believe that there is realizable value in maintaining Truth Social as the official online home of Donald J. Trump.

Does that make it a multi-billion-dollar business? What do "business" and "dollar" mean? Musk himself, formerly No. 1 on the Bloomberg chart, is now No. 3 at a net worth of $187 billion—down $42.4 billion so far this year. That evaporating $42.4 billion would on its own be the world's 31st largest fortune, if it hadn't arbitrarily ceased to exist. It ceased to exist because Elon Musk's value is almost entirely speculative, based largely on the premise that his small automotive company is worth more than all the world's leading carmakers combined. 

What else makes a fortune? The actual No. 31 on Bloomberg's list is Colin Huang, "founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo." Donald Trump's new spot on the list puts him just below Alexey Kuzmichev, a former "partner in Alfa Group, an investment conglomerate he controlled with fellow billionaires Mikhail Fridman and German Khan," who "retains a stake in water and sewage company Rosvodokanal" ("Random fact: Sanctioned by the E.U., U.K. and U.S. following the Russian invasion of Ukraine"), and just above Geoffrey Kwok, "a grandson of the co-founder of Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hong Kong's largest property developer." Real estate! 

A scroll through the wider Bloomberg list, to check up on Trump's peers, is a survey of this world's material and immaterial possibilities. The top 10 is the familiar roll call of the tech industry's winners: Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Larry Ellison, Larry Page. But above them—the wealthiest person of all, at the moment—is Bernard Arnault of LVMH, the luxury-goods consortium that is somehow more lucrative than all other consortia anyone has consolidated. 

Right below the top 10, meanwhile, is the Indian oil-and-chemical magnate Mukesh Ambani, illustrating the power of owning valuable things in huge markets. Or the things don't even have to be so valuable: down at No. 23, far above many U.S. household names, is Zhong Shanshan, "chairman of Nongfu Spring, a bottled water company" (with a sideline in a company that makes "vaccines and hepatitis test-kits"). A hundred spots below Zhong, at No. 123, is Wang Chuan-Fu, whose company, BYD, makes electric cars and batteries in Shenzhen, and "employs over 570,000 people." 

That makes BYD's workforce about the size of the entire population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. Or it's more than 14 times the population of Liechtenstein, whose Prince Hans-Adam II is No. 252 thanks to his control of the family bank ("Random fact: Royal family does not receive any income from the state"). Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud is No. 138, with his famed family-national Kingdom Holdings: 

a conglomerate that has stakes in hotels, real estate and equities. The Riyadh-based group's investments include Citigroup, Snap and Lyft. He also has shares in social media platform X, and a stake in Middle East film and entertainment company Rotana.

All that cutting-edge globalized Saudi investment puts the prince two spots below Qin Yinglin, whose Muyuan Foodstuff is "a pig breeding and distribution company" that "sold more than 61 million pigs in 2022." World-bestriding right-wing media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile, sits at No. 270, five spots behind Pang Kang, whose Foshan Haitian Flavouring & Food "produces more than 300 different condiments and foods including oyster sauce, vinegar, chicken stock, and bean curd."

Feed the people! The individual fortunes of the half-dozen members of the Mars candy family on the list would add up to the net worth of one of those Silicon Valley household names. Or sell consumer goods to the people: if the five Waltons combined their Walmart fortunes, their discount-retail holdings would vault them ahead of even Arnault. 

Fortunes may show up overnight, as most of Trump's just did. But then they tend to stick around. No. 41 on the list is MacKenzie Scott, the former MacKenzie Bezos, who has been widely reported, after the divorce from Jeff Bezos, to be trying to give away her fortune. But that fortune is mostly in Amazon shares, and Amazon is prospering. According to Bloomberg, she's up $1.57 billion this year. The best way to get richer is to be rich. 

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Peter Angelos, 1929–2024

SPEAKING OF RICH people, for Defector, I memorialized Peter Angelos, the asbestos-injury lawyer who owned the Baltimore Orioles for almost my entire adult life, for better and then very much for worse:

In less than a decade, Peter Angelos had built a winner and then destroyed it utterly. No self-respecting star wanted to play for his Orioles. "It's like we have Confederate money; it's no good," [vice-president of baseball operations Syd] Thrift would famously say at the winter meetings; meanwhile, the minor leagues, Thrift's responsibility before taking over the whole organization, were almost unbelievably empty of talent. Attendance slid from its peak at 3.7 million in 1997 down below 2 million and kept going. Cal Ripken Jr. retired. The names on the jerseys kept changing; the names and the job titles in the front office kept changing; the team kept losing. 
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A scale with a hand doing "thumbs up" gesture opposed by another hand also doing a "thumbs up" on the other side of the scale but weighing more even though they look the sameA scale with a hand doing "thumbs up" gesture opposed by another hand also doing a "thumbs up" on the other side of the scale but weighing more even though they look the same

Ask The Sophist

GOT SOMETHING YOU need to justify to yourself, or to the world at large? Other columnists are here to judge you, but The Sophist is here to tell you why you’re right. Please send your questions to The Sophist, at indignity@indignity.net, and get the answers you want.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of sandwiches from New Presentation of Cooking with Timed Recipes, by Auguste Gay with the collaboration of Anne Page. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at archive.org for the delectation of all.

For each sandwich
2 slices of buttered bread
4 chopped steamed hard clams
1/2 tablespoon celery leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise sauce

Mix chopped clams and celery leaves with mayonnaise sauce. Spread on both slices of bread, put together and press lightly.

For each sandwich
2 toasted and buttered slices of bread
2 slices of fresh fried bacon
4 slices of cold chicken (boiled or roasted)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise sauce
2 leaves of lettuce

Arrange on each buttered slice of bread first a leaf of lettuce, then bacon, and then chicken. Cover with mayonnaise. Gently turn one part on top of the other.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to indignity@indignity.net. 


The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the strengthening sunshine with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the damp ground seeps through your blanket.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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