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.