Confessions of Philadelphia’s One Percent

They’ve been mocked, maligned, protested, pilloried, and generally blamed for the downfall of the economy. So what’s it feel like to be rich these days? We asked. Five wealthy (and anonymous) Philadelphians answered.

The CEO has run and owned several companies, which has made him worth tens of millions. He grew up middle-class, and as a young man was more interested in the arts than business. But he started working in business before he was out of college, and that changed the course of his career.

When I was at college in the ’70s, the smart guys were taking philosophy or mathematics, so it never occurred to me that making money was an objective. I don’t think to this day I’m interested in making money. It’s not an interesting thing.

I think the thing I liked about art was inventing things. As soon as I got into business, it was apparent that your whole job was to take whatever was being done and figure out new, better ways to do it, and figure out new things to do with it. I had to be creative, almost constantly.

After I sold my first company, all of a sudden we were entirely liquid. The first time you really have a lot of money, so that you never have to work again if you don’t want to, is a bit of a crisis. Because you don’t really know what your purpose in life is anymore, briefly.

If my children had their druthers, I would not have the money I do, because they prefer an environment where they are not thought of as wealthy kids. I got hit up for years by their private schools to make a contribution, and when I finally do, it becomes known and my kids get teased about it.

Charity plays a huge role in my life. I recently gave a few million to cancer research.

I raised money for Obama, and I voted for him this last time, but I’m not thrilled with him. He went in and escalated in Afghanistan, a total waste of money. My stand on wars is this simple: I wish we had spent that money on ourselves, because it’s $3 trillion. We are spending $115 billion a year on a country whose gross domestic product is $15 billion—explain that! [laughs] So I don’t feel like paying more taxes.

I think protest movements generally are a very healthy dimension of American life and have been all along. The Occupy movement was right—the banks did get away with it. It’s one of the things that drove me out of the banking industry.

In periods of stress—in the 1870s, 1890s, we’ve had plenty of protest movements—the American public has reliably cried out. There is a native intelligence, but a lot of times that outcry has been that there is something morally wrong. The diagnosis has almost always been wrong, but the expression of pain has almost always been appropriate.

What interests me is how much we seem to need an enemy. That’s the more fascinating part of this outcry to me. It relates to the fact that fear is the most fundamental human emotion.

Terrorism, frankly, in some large respect, is evidence not that the world is backsliding, but that their world is moving forward too fast. It’s evidence of how rapidly things are getting better, not that things are getting worse.

We were in Saudi Arabia two years ago, guests of the crown prince, who took us on a tour of the country—about eight of us. They had just done a study to find industries that could become number one in the world. One of them was nanotechnology. They were spending $30 billion on the nanotechnology industry. To me, that seems smart. We’re spending $700 billion on military, and spending nothing on things like this. And that’s how you create jobs.

Once, we led in telegraphs and railroads and cars. It wasn’t that Americans were smarter or more moral—we were doing the hottest new stuff. When public funding of stem-cell research was banned, it was an example of sending the wrong message. Italy led the world coming out of the ­Renaissance—all the brightest minds wanted to go to Italy, that’s where all the smart guys were. Then Galileo puts out a new theory that the planets revolve around the sun, he’s taken to trial, spends the rest of his life under house arrest. All the bright people in Italy didn’t have to think twice about that—the place where they could pursue things unimpeded was the north, in Amsterdam. Guess what? The next big world empire was the Dutch, because that’s where intellectuals could go to do what they wanted to do.

I wish there was a different level of dialogue on almost all issues. But I’m not naive, either. In my lifetime, when there has been economic stress, rich people get portrayed in unflattering ways. It will continue to be the case long after I’m dead and gone.

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