Monday 20 November 2017

Failed rich guys don't know they are poor

Declan Lynch suspects that, by doing nothing at all, he is slowly making his way up the Rich List

A FRIEND of mine, who is a member of one of the better Dublin golf clubs, was telling me recently that his sense of his own status in the club has shifted somewhat in recent times. About six years ago, he looked around him one day, and made the depressing calculation that he was probably one of the poorest members of the club – if not actually the poorest of them all.

Not that he had any money troubles, as such. He had a decent enough job, and he had no immediate chance of losing it – yet he did not have much chance either of joining the ranks of the fat cats who were strolling the fairways in large numbers at that time. Indeed, he figured that for the rest of his life, he would probably never receive anything more than a five-figure annual income, which, in the spirit of the times, made him feel strangely inferior – a mere wage slave.

He doesn't feel like that any more. As he looks around the old clubhouse now at various bankrupt barristers and busted builders and men who, for whatever reason, are down a few million, he realises that in terms of net worth, he has been quietly moving up the table. Without actually doing anything, one of the poorest members of the club has found himself right up there on the Rich List.

I thought of that man last week, as Bill Cullen consented to a judgement of €8.2m being entered against him at the Commercial Court in favour of Danske Bank over unpaid loans. Because in the light of this, and other misfortunes in his business life, I think it is quite possible that I am now considerably richer than Bill Cullen. And so are many of the readers of this paper – yes reader, you and I, in a very real sense, are now richer than Bill Cullen.

Did we ever think we'd see the day? As we watched him on The Apprentice, did it even for a moment cross our minds that one day in 2012 we would find ourselves in a position to make such a statement?

And yet we can, not because we did anything to get there, just because we stayed roughly where we were, living in this time of utter insanity. A time in Irish history – in human history – for which we are quite unprepared, involving propositions which would have been alien to our ancestors and indeed to ourselves until 2008 or thereabouts.

The way it was, people tended to get through life on roughly the same amount of money from one year to the next. You would not have too many situations whereby a Sean Quinn, for example, would be worth millions more than the average man, and then, in a very short space of time, the average man would be worth millions more than Sean Quinn.

Faced with such extremes, we no longer actually know whether we are rich or poor. In general we have tended to measure our well-being in that area, not by enjoying what we have, but by comparing what we have, with what other people have. Indeed you will hear psychologists talking about this as a source of much of the unhappiness in modern life.

But in this time of utter insanity, it gets a bit complicated – on paper, for example, you and I may now be worth a lot more than Bill Cullen or Sean Quinn. But if that suddenly makes us feel like rich guys for a few fleeting moments, I can tell you one thing for sure – it doesn't make them feel like poor guys.

Theirs is a state of mind that persists, regardless of what the numbers are saying. Such men, even in the most dire situations, will always tend to see themselves as rich guys who just happen to have a few financial problems at the moment.

The rich are different, but not as Hemingway saw it – unlike the Hemingway rich who simply "have more money", these days they don't necessarily have more money, and they may have a lot less money. So they might be 50 million ahead one year, and 50 million down the next year, but it doesn't seem to make much difference to the way that they live.

And frankly, at this stage, I don't think they'd know any other way to live. Just as most of us would not know how to live as they do. And even if we did, strange as it seems, we probably wouldn't like it.

Personally, I wouldn't want to live like Bill Cullen even when he was stonkingly rich, getting up very early and doing exercises and riding around in helicopters and all that crack. But it's the more idle rich who have it really hard, with all their bloody holidays – those endless boring days lying in the sun, and not even a half-decent programme on Spanish television. I think I would prefer to shoot myself in the head than to join them out there.

So now that we're all moving up the Rich List – it's no big deal, is it?

Sunday Independent

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