Monday, August 06, 2007

Woe is the Poor Silicon Valley Millionaire

I have to comment on the New York Times article about Silicon Valley millionaires.
By almost any definition — except his own and perhaps those of his neighbors here in Silicon Valley — Hal Steger has made it.

Mr. Steger, 51, a self-described geek, has banked more than $2 million. The $1.3 million house he and his wife own on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean is paid off. The couple’s net worth of roughly $3.5 million places them in the top 2 percent of families in the United States.

Yet each day Mr. Steger continues to toil in what a colleague calls “the Silicon Valley salt mines,” working as a marketing executive for a technology start-up company, still striving for his big strike. Most mornings, he can be found at his desk by 7. He typically works 12 hours a day and logs an extra 10 hours over the weekend.

“I know people looking in from the outside will ask why someone like me keeps working so hard,” Mr. Steger says. “But a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore.”

Ok. Cost of living is really high there. But life is about choices. And the desire for things is what is trapping this guy.
Silicon Valley is thick with those who might be called working-class millionaires — nose-to-the-grindstone people like Mr. Steger who, much to their surprise, are still working as hard as ever even as they find themselves among the fortunate few. Their lives are rich with opportunity; they generally enjoy their jobs. They are amply cushioned against the anxieties and jolts that worry most people living paycheck to paycheck.

But many such accomplished and ambitious members of the digital elite still do not think of themselves as particularly fortunate, in part because they are surrounded by people with more wealth — often a lot more.

I have an old-fashioned word that cover this: covetousness. As in, "thou shalt not covet" your neighbor's goods. We all fall prey to this. But the insanity of this sin is more apparent when you see someone who is worth millions falling prey to this.
When chief executives are routinely paid tens of millions of dollars a year and a hedge fund manager can collect $1 billion annually, those with a few million dollars often see their accumulated wealth as puny, a reflection of their modest status in the new Gilded Age, when hundreds of thousands of people have accumulated much vaster fortunes.

“Everyone around here looks at the people above them,” said Gary Kremen, the 43-year-old founder of, a popular online dating service. “It’s just like Wall Street, where there are all these financial guys worth $7 million wondering what’s so special about them when there are all these guys worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“People around here, if they have 2 or 3 million dollars, they don’t feel secure,” said David W. Hettig, an estate planner based in Menlo Park who has advised Silicon Valley’s wealthy for two decades.

Oh, the deceitfulness of riches.

But there are also good anecdotes in the story.
Many of these millionaires have options, of course, beyond working hard to earn another $5 million to $10 million. A few even choose to jump off the golden treadmill.

That is what Mark Gage, 51, an engineer, and his wife, Meredith, did when they left the Bay Area in 2005 with $3 million or so in assets. They bought a house in Bend, Ore. — “a bigger, much nicer home with dramatic views” — and now Mr. Gage works only when the perfect consulting job presents itself.

But it ends on a somber note.
To Mr. Milletti, it all looks like a marathon with no finish line.

“Here, the top 1 percent chases the top one-tenth of 1 percent, and the top one-tenth of 1 percent chases the top one-one-hundredth of 1 percent,” he said.

“You try not to get caught up in it,” he added, “but it’s hard not to.”

That's because we are all born with sin natures.
Many of the more modest millionaires here feel sheepish, even guilty at times, about their piles of cash. Talent played in a role in their financial success, but so did being at the right place at the right time.

Why feel guilty?

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