The World Of The Very Rich

Word that German billionaire Adolf Merckle had committed suicide brought a couple of reactions from me. The first was, of course, sympathy for his family over the loss of a loved one but the second was a degree of either bemusement or cynicism over his feeling that his life was so ruined.

I am not one to speak ill of the dead, and again I do feel the deepest sympathies for his family and for the emotions that led him to this choice, but when I see people in my office every day with far worse problems I am a bit reluctant to avoid my feelings now.

According to news reports he had been worth as much as $ 10 billion dollars last year (2008) and while his losses did appear to be substantial, it was very unlikely he or his family would be headed to the poor house.

Indeed if 99% of his 2008 fortune was gone he’d still have $ 100,000,000 dollars if 99.9% was gone he’d have around $ 10,000,000 and even if 99.99% was gone he’d still have a million dollars, which is a lot more than most of us have in a lifetime.

But in his world having a mere 10 or 100 million dollars was akin to abject poverty and the idea that he had lost money was such that he felt unable to face his family with ‘honor’. Even if he had lost every penny I find that argument a bit tough to swallow (indeed many families start all over with nothing while Merckle would have millions left).

I frankly find his actions to be cowardly in that they leave his family to deal with the aftermath.

I can at least understand when an investment banker or stockbroker takes this route because he feels the guilt of truly bankrupting his investors, but for someone to take this step because he’s only worth $ 10,000,000 or $ 100,000,000 is ridiculous.

Author: PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

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7 Comments

  1. Wow we're just full of empathy aren't we?

    There are several factors that make these wealthy suicides prime targets for an attempt. First, they are men, and men usually don't go for “suicide attempts,” they go for the success (guns, windows). Second they in the later stages of life, and elderly men are usually the prime demographic for successful suicide. Then there's the fact these people have their value system warped by money; their whole self-esteem is measured by not if they've married and had a family, it's by their net worth. Then there's extenuating factors, like ill health, possible investigation and imprisonment by the authorities (because you no longer have money for good attorneys), and the fact you've gone from a abundant provider to an abundant debtor and are now looking at life in the nursing home and seizure of all your possessions.

    Cowardly? Perhaps, but I wouldn't be so quick to judge. It's more sad and unfortunate that the loss of mere lucre leads these men to such a (logical, to them) path.

  2. When you're very rich money doesn't mean the same thing as it does to you and me. It's a way of keeping score. H. Merckle lost the game and couldn't deal with it. It's sad.

  3. I heard about this last night at a book club.

    If you haven't already, consider reading “Richistan” by Robert Frank. It's a peak into the psyche of the wealthy, the rich, the very rich, and the obscenely very rich. Interesting psychology, that Dave Schuler alludes to in his post.

    Not too surprising, money transforms into a symbol, a reckoning, and a measure of self-worth rather than as a tool for transacting goods and services.

  4. Whenever someone's sense of self is lost there is always the chance for depression and suicide.

  5. i dont believe we have the facts about his suicide. Many elderly people commit suicide. The reasons are complex, and most of the time the pathway to suicide is laid down for years before an actual attempt.

    Psychologically, there are factors that have likely dogged this man most if not all of his life. Suicide is seldom an impulsive decision, but often an anti-life choice one has been fighting against for a long long time. There is a trigger, it is true, but usually it is not the first trigger in the person's life that urges them to do away with themselves… it is more likely one in a long line of many triggers that they've managed to evade.

    Because of the four suicides over the last couple weeks of men in high finance, I think, frankly, it gives us a horrible glimpse behind the curtain of 'rich person persona'… that demonstrates once again that mental health issues have no respect for class or race or culture.

    The MSM has excellent health journos. I hope they will write about what causes a person at a breaking point to choose to end their life rather than muddle through one more time… There is much more to such stories of suicide by a rich man. Much more.

    this is just my two cents worth.

    dr.e

  6. Another factor is that we do not know how much of his fortune was paper-based, and/or highly leveraged. With the exception of someone like Bill Gates in his prime, where almost all his wealth was based on his ownership of a public stock, really knowing the net worth of the very rich, and how stable the underlying values are, is a matter of guessing based on what little public information can be gathered.

    For all we know, he was deeply in the red now, and couldn't face the prospect of having to to both explain the loss of everything, and having to try and rebuild at his age.

    But that is all conjecture.

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