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The Golden Haves

CAMBRIDGE -- Lately, I have been trying to explain to my eleven-year-old son Gabriel the astronomical differences between people’s income.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates first penetrated Gabriel’s consciousness a couple of years ago, when his father served as a warm-up act to Gates at a large conference sponsored by the Danish government. Ever since, Gabriel has been fascinated by the seemingly infinite possibilities of having $60 billion.

For example, whenever I tell Gabriel that something is unbelievably valuable (even, say, a great painting in a museum), he invariably says, “But Bill Gates could buy it, right?” Yes, Gates could buy the whole museum. But then he would just turn around and give it back so everyone else can see it, so there is no point. Gabriel is not entirely convinced.

Gabriel has decided that if he can’t become a professional basketball player when he grows up, then he’d like to buy a team. As an economics professor, I cannot help but ask him if he knows that it costs $300-500 million to buy a National Basketball Association team. “But Bill Gates could do it. He could buy all the teams in the league, right?” Yes, I say. But if Bill Gates were to own the entire NBA, how would he decide which team to root for? Gabriel concedes the point, but I can tell that again he is not convinced.