Life in My Seventies and Study: Billionaires Not that Smart
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Life in the Red Zone
I recently turned 76, and for the past six years, I’ve been living in the Red Zone. The Red Zone is when famous people keep dying at around the same age as you are. (Last month Tim Bachman, co-founder of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, died at the age of 71. So did Lasse Wellander, the longtime guitarist for ABBA. He was 70.)
The Red Zone is like the section of a car’s gas gauge just past E that, when the needle hovers over it, you’re never sure exactly how many miles you have left before the car conks out. You’re still going strong, but you’re not sure for how long.
Of course, it’s not just famous people dying, but those are the ones I read about with their 70-something ages prominently displayed like flashing warning lights directed at me.
I don’t dwell on death. I don’t fidget over impending doom. I’m not crafting pithy last words. (I might just use Oscar Wilde’s last words: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”) Quite the opposite. Like most people over sixty, I’m actually happier than when I was younger (“Older Americans upbeat about aging, future”).
Two reasons I’m happier: 1. I have perfected the power of “no.” If I don’t want to do something, I just say no. I’m not chasing after a career anymore, so I only do what interests me or helps someone else. I can’t be guilted. 2. I don’t worry about what people think of me. I accomplished what I wanted as a player, as a writer, and as a person. Sure, I made mistakes, and there are things I regret, but I’ve come to terms with them. If my records are broken, I don’t feel diminished. Want to say something nasty about me on social media? Have at it. It affects me as much as a barking dog in the next neighborhood.
Religions, philosophers, and writers all tell us the road for all of us ends at either “good death” or “bad death.” That is the ultimate prize—or punishment. Good death is when we arrive at the end and are happy because we have lived a life in keeping with our values, knowing we have done good and inspired love in others. Bad death is when we reach the end knowing we have betrayed our values, exploited others for our own gain, and are alienated from our true selves and isolated from others.
A couple weeks ago, I vacationed with all my children and grandchildren. I was immersed in love and gratitude. That, too, is the Red Zone. I am never past loving them, guiding them, doing all I can to help them—but I am past being responsible for them. I can just appreciate them for who they are.
I still have passions and goals besides my friends and family. I have books and documentaries I’m writing. I have work with my Skyhook Foundation promoting STEM education. I have social injustices I want to fight against. And I have this Substack and the interaction with my subscribers.
Living in the Red Zone brings uncertainty about the future. But who doesn’t face that every day? For me, the joys of what I do daily far outweigh any concerns about how many years I have left. As long as I spend them still doing what I love, I’ll be just fine.
SUMMARY: New research has shattered the myth that the ultra-wealthy are the smartest people around.
According to a recent study, being a billionaire doesn't necessarily equate to having a superior intellect. In fact, the study reveals that those in the top 1% of earners, aka billionaires, scored lower on cognitive ability tests than those who earned just slightly less than they do.
The comprehensive study, conducted by researchers from Linköping University in Sweden, the European University Institute in Italy and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, analyzed data from 59,400 Swedish men who took a military conscription test when they were young adults. The researchers then meticulously tracked their career trajectories, earnings and job prestige for over a decade, from when they were 35 until they turned 45.
The results showed a strong relationship between intelligence and earning potential until the figure exceeded $64,000 a year. Beyond this point, the correlation became almost negligible. And at the highest pay scales, intelligence plateaued, suggesting that other factors, such as socioeconomic background, culture, personality traits and luck, became more significant.
MY TAKE: Not sure what it is about some Americans that they scoff at experts (unless they need them), but are willing to follow the wealthy like loyal Shih Tzus yapping at their heels. We have an unhealthy—and now clearly inaccurate—faith in the intelligence of the wealthy (look how many we elect to political office.) Just because someone is successful in business does not mean that they have any critical thinking abilities when it comes to social or political issues, which are much more complex and nuanced. But so many people are willing to blindly follow millionaires and billionaires just because they are rich. It’s like when Tevye sings “If I Were a Rich Man” in Fiddler on the Roof:
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them like a Solomon the Wise
…Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes!
And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong
When you're rich, they think you really know!
Sadly, the revelation that the rich aren’t any smarter won’t make any difference to their loyal daydream believers who need someone to tell them what to think and what to do. The one thing successful business people have learned is that if you tell people what they want to hear, they’ll follow you anywhere. The evidence is Trump’s idiocy made public on a daily basis—from his own mouth. Yet, it has no effect on his greedy followers. They are too blinded by his bragging about how rich he is (and how little taxes he pays). Don’t let the glint off their gold Rolexes blind you to the actual mediocrity coming out of their mouths.