Guest Post: The Meaning of Enough?

Submitted by Leo Kolivakis, publisher of Pension Pulse.


I was going to write about the markets, but it’s Father’s Day so I want to share something with you my dad gave me, a Newsweek article by Peter Peterson, Why I’m Giving Away $1 Billion:

In 2007 the company I cofounded, the Blackstone Group, held a most successful public offering. I found myself, at 81, an instant billionaire. I wish I could’ve called my father, a Greek immigrant who had spent most of his life running a 24-hour diner in Kearney, Neb. The news might have pleased him as much as my being the first Greek cabinet officer, which he never hesitated to tell perfect strangers. In the 1930s, when I was growing up, there was all this talk about millionaires like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Now I was a millionaire 1,000 times over.

But immediately I began wondering: what do I do with $1 billion? The idea of trying to make the money grow felt empty to me. For my father, who saved or gave away so much of his modest income, the ultimate pejorative was “big spender.” So buying a yacht was out of the question. I was also struggling over what to do with myself. I would be retiring from Blackstone, but my mind was still sharp and my energy was good.

As my work commitments diminished, the phones gradually stopped ringing. The e-mails slowed. My schedule had too many blank spots. I was liberated. I was free. But I was joyless. I found my new life to be a kind of metaphor for my declining years—one might say a slow dying. I missed the frequent interactions with people I respected and enjoyed. I missed being needed. So I started looking at the lives of other billionaires. Almost all the ones I most admired were major philanthropists: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg, George Soros, Eli Broad—each with a passion to do good, each getting so much pleasure from giving their money away. I decided that’s what I wanted to do. But to which worthy cause would I direct my money?

For the first time in my memory, the majority of the American people join me in believing that, on our current course, our children will not do as well as we have. For years, I have been saying that the American government, and America itself, has to change its spending and borrowing policies: the tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlements and promises, the dangerous dependence on foreign capital, our pitiful level of savings, the metastasizing health-care costs, our energy gluttony. These structural deficits are unsustainable. Herb Stein, who served alongside me in the Nixon White House as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, once drily observed, “If your horse dies, I suggest you dismount.” And yet, we keep trying to ride this horse.

Underlying these challenges is our broken political system. Our representatives, unlike our Founding Fathers, see politics as a career. As a result, they are focused not on the next generation, but on the next election. When the long-term problems are large and real, they anesthetize us, mislead us, divert us—anything to keep us from giving up something or having to pay for it. Too often, our political leaders are just enablers, co-conspirators in a disingenuous and greedy silence. Our children are unrepresented. The future is unrepresented. The moment is long overdue for us to become moral and worthy ancestors. So I decided to set up a different kind of foundation, one that would focus on America’s key fiscal-sustainability challenges. The fact is, for most of these challenges, there are workable solutions. Our problem is not a lack of such options. It is a lack of will to do something about them.

Ultimately, I decided to commit $1 billion to the Peter G. Peterson foundation—the vast majority of my net proceeds from Blackstone. Why so much? Kurt Vonnegut once told a story about seeing Joseph Heller at a wealthy hedge-fund manager’s party at a beach house in the Hamptons. Casting his eye around the luxurious setting, Vonnegut said, “Joe, doesn’t it bother you that this guy makes more in a day than you ever made from Catch-22?” “No, not really,” Heller said. “I have something that he doesn’t have: I know the meaning of enough.” I have far more than enough.

Peterson’s memoir, The Education Of An American Dreamer, will be published by Twelve this month.

Having met many hedge fund and private equity fund managers, I can tell you Joseph Heller is absolutely right, you can’t put a price on the “meaning of enough” and most of these super rich individuals do not have a clue about the real meaning of life.

I never met Pete Peterson but I have an autographed copy of his previous book, Running on Empty, which a senior private equity officer at a large public pension fund was kind enough to give me.

[Note: Watch this interview with Charlie Rose to hear more about Mr. Peterson.]

Finally, let me share with you this amazing YouTube video below of the real story of a inspirational love between a father and a son. Dick and Rick Hoyt – Team Hoyt – teach us that that there is never enough love for those we truly care about.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and to my father whom I love deeply for all that he has done for me.

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25 comments

  1. another

    Bravo to Mr. Peterson.

    Happily, most human beings find the meaning of 'enough' without having once to make even a million of those dollars.

  2. Tao Jones

    Wow. The guy gave $1 billion of his own money to a foundation that appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a PAC committed to promoting his own political agenda.

    Are we supposed to clap or something? For a foundation that is currently flogging the federal deficit as a problem at this particular moment in the financial crisis? Really?

  3. bob

    One of my favorites from Vonnegut, the whole thing is very good, and still applicable to everything going on now, but this was my favorite part:

    Here’s the news: I am going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, for a billion bucks! Starting when I was only 12 years old, I have never chain-smoked anything but unfiltered Pall Malls. And for many years now, right on the package, Brown and Williamson have promised to kill me.

    But I am now 82. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.

    http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0205-29.htm

  4. skippy

    Wow, BG and Tao Jones, anti-Romanticism is not passé any more eh. Lets see the do goodie's (after extracting a billion from others) take their shirt off and break a sweat of good will, me thinks.

    All of this debacle we face to day is old news, Think back to the Treasury, James Macy/Smithson umm Smithsonian aka illegitimate son of ? (hint European Aristocrat) Owens bill, 2 billion converted to greenbacks, which of $$$ millions went to the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas to cover over inflated assets = friends asses, 20 years till bonds matured to pay of debt, a promises of, so called honorable men.

    We the American people have been here before, who is your friend[?], how much did you contribute to the American aristocracy, that came over here on the boats as poor cousins of their more powerful European betters.

    Vinny G. your animosity toward Europe is not unlike the founders of America, a family grievance played out upon us all. Economics is just the foil to which they employ in their blood feud.

    skippy…do not the Royal Family's of old still trace their bloodlines to Jesus, hence God, its on all their ancient sheepskin genealogy's, forthwith power base, until we solve the riddle of power and its roots all is folly.

    PS Mr. Kolivakis I do not mean to rain on your parade as I do believe your efforts are from a perspective of good will and laud you for them.

  5. Leo Kolivakis

    You know, not all rich people are evil capitalists making money off the backs of poor workers.

    Mr. Peterson impresses me, not because of his immense wealth, but because of his family values. His dad was one of many immigrants who busted their asses to see their children succeed.

    I saw Pete Peterson on Charlie Rose recently and he is smart and impressive.

    But the story of every day heroes like Dick and Rick Hoyt are the ones that truly impress me. I draw my own inspiration from these heroes, not the high flying wheelers and dealers of finance.

    cheers,

    Leo

  6. Michael

    People do change at the end of their life as they reflect and the passions they once held so dear flutter away and die. How ironic that the belief you can buy your way into a better afterlife can be dressed up as philanthropy.

    This old guy can't stand he is no longer powerful and this is the option left to him…

  7. Todd Wood

    Happy father's day:

    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=1604344427

    First Stanza:

    Yea
    Let's take'em back
    Uh huh

    Coming up I was confused
    My mama kissing a girl
    Confusion occurs
    Coming up in a cold world
    Daddy aint around
    Probably out committing felonies
    My favorite rapper used to sing
    Check, check out my melody
    I wanna live good so shit I sell dope
    For a four-finger rings
    One of them gold ropes
    Nana told me if I passed I get a sheep skin coat
    If I could move a few packs
    I get the hat
    Now that'll be dope
    Tossed and turn in my sleep that night
    Woke up the next morning
    Niggaz done stole my bike
    Different day, same shit
    Ain't nothing good in the hood
    I run away from this bitch
    And never come back if I could

  8. LeeAnne

    and he also quotes Ben Stein -'nuff said.


    See Wikipedia: 'He was also Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York between 2000 and 2004.'

    And the best he can do with his extra disposable $Billion is go after Social Security and Medicare? He and his right wing cronies would still be talking stupid about putting private social security funds into the stock market if it hadn't demonstrated its inherent instability for the world to see.

    For a quick brush-up on the Pete Peterson Sequel to the George Bush Privatizing Social Security project, a few links:

    Media Matters

    June 16, 2009 8:57 am ET by Jamison Foser

    'The question Pete Peterson never gets asked:

    'Morning Joe just hosted Pete Peterson, giving him an opportunity to plug his book and spread his doom and gloom about "entitlement reform." As usual, the reporters present treated Peterson as though he is a Yoda, the Dalai Lama, and their grandfather all in one.

    Nobody, for example, asked Peterson about his opposition to health care reform in the early 1990s ("The issue is whether we can afford it. We can't.") Since then, health care costs have skyrocketed, taking Medicare costs with them. So the failure of health care reform in 1993/1994 not only resulted in tens of millions of Americans going without health care for the past 15 years, it also contributed to the soaring Medicare spending that Pete Peterson insists is a crisis.

    All of which suggests a second question somebody should probably ask Peterson: Why should we listen to you?'

    Salon on Pete Peterson vow to spend most of his fortune to promote his vision of fiscal rectitude

    'So when the White House raises the issue of "entitlement programs" or "entitlement reform" — without differentiating between Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security — that reinforces the message of the center-right coalition that now sees an opportunity to cut Social Security benefits and undermine public confidence in the program. That coalition includes several outfits, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Democratic Leadership Council, whose analysts once pushed privatization (although they are unlikely to mention any such forlorn enthusiasm now). Joining them are the Concord Coalition and other fronts funded by billionaire and former Nixon Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson, who has vowed to spend most of his fortune to promote his vision of fiscal rectitude.'

    A few more links:

    Waking Up The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour

    Bill Scher March 12, 2009 Waking up the Fiscal Walk-Up Tour

  9. Tawal

    Roubini lost all cred by being a shill for this crud. Peterson wants to take our 40 trillion and leave us with his stinking billion. Fat chance a-hole. Go and die already, pleeeaaase. LeeAnne's hammered that nail well.

  10. Mark

    Leo,

    I can't believe you're lauding a man who wants to turn U.S. Social Security into a welfare program. I thought you supported dignified retirements for people. Which side are you on: the rich creeps or the people?

  11. Harlem Dad

    Leo,

    I'm taking your Father's Day post in the spirit with which you intended. Thank you. I you enjoyed yours as much as I enjoyed mine.

    My daughter made me a very special card which I will keep forever. It's good to be reminded of what really matters.

    Tim in Sugar Hill

  12. LeeAnne

    This is how Peterson got a billion of his $2.5Billion -doing well by doing good. What do Blackstone/Peterson and the Chinese know that we don't know? Anything to do with Treasury's China visits following Paulson's $700B heist-America?

    China Investment Rewards Failed Blackstone Investment with More Cash
    by: Vincent Fernando June 22, 2009 |

    "After watching their US$3bn investment in the Blackstone (BX) IPO shrink by nearly two-thirds (from $29.605 to $12), China Investment Corp is reported to be investing $500mn in Blackstone funds (not directly in the stock this time) in an attempt to get into markets while prices are cheap. Fair enough on the market call, but I guess there aren't any hard feelings regarding the overvalued price CIC was given previously for Blackstone shares ($29.605).

    Let's just say that Blackstone wasn't lying on their roadshows when they said they were the smart money… unfortunately CIC and later Blackstone IPO buyers probably didn't realize the implications this has when it's the smart money you are buying shares from.

    But hey, that was two years ago, …"

  13. Hugh

    Pete Peterson is rich plus or minus his billion. He doesn't need Social Security. I am a little surprised thought that Leo who writes so much about the problems of pension funds would laud a man who spends so much of his time trying to cut benefits in one of the few solid retirement programs left, Social Security.

  14. Leo Kolivakis

    Where do you see Mr. Peterson wants to cut Social Security? Come on folks, get real with your criticism. I do not criticize people just because they are billionaires.

    cheers,

    Leo

  15. Hugh

    I see that Pete Peterson wants to cut Social Security benefits, for example, here in this post by Dean Baker:

    "Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson has been on a long quest to gut Social Security and Medicare, the core social insurance programs on which the country’s workers depend. He recently endowed a new foundation with a billion dollars to pursue this end."

    http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/peter-petersons-bad-economics/

    Basically, Peterson wants to do away with the indexing of increasing wages to increased benefits. This would mean that as your wages increased your benefits would not. This would result in a cut in benefits from current levels.

    Peterson has also suggested a variation of privatized Social Security: mandatory saving accoounts which would be managed and invested in you guessed it in index funds of stocks and bonds.

    http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1078

    That would have worked out so well in the current collapse.

  16. VG Chicago

    Leo,

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Your life journey is truly remarkable and a worthy model for others to follow. Congratulations on a life well lived!

    Also, it was inspiring to read about your father’s immigrant background. I too immigrated to the US, albeit at an early age, and made this country my home. America, despite its problems has not let me down yet (although it nearly spooked me a few times :)

    I too was faced with dilemma similar to your back in the early 90s, after I made a splash in the software industry, having achieved my career/business goals. In my own journey I decided to change careers entirely, went back to school, and became a doctor. A radical change, from an engineering background. Now, besides having the great satisfaction of actually helping real people who are facing difficulties and illness, I also teach graduate students. The beauty of teaching is that it brings two generations together. I have learned at least as much from my students as I hope they have learned from me. Although today I am not nearly as affluent financially as when I was in the software industry, I can say that I am a lot richer in spirit, and I have a much greater sense of self-actualization than when I used to sell shrink-wrapped software boxes by the truckload.

    I must say that I held a pessimistic view of the future of this nation as well. However, interacting with my students has taught me that we, as a nation, need not put our trust in our corrupt middle-aged politicians, bankers, or our failed system, simply because on the scale of human evolution and human lifespan development, many of these “pillars of our community” are fairly primitive human beings, still stuck in the selfish “me, me, me” modus operandi.

    Fortunately, it is the energy, creativity, idealism, and optimism of capable young people such as my students that will get us through the day. And if their generation will get hijacked by their more “primitive” peers, fortunately there will be another generation coming after them to rebuild and to keep the flame of hope burning. The cycle continues.

    As far as the crumbling American empire, the “dead horse” as you put it, that’s OK if it’s dead. Other empires have come and gone, but nations remained. Few can argue with the fact that most European imperial powers (and Japan) have become better places to live after their respective empires collapsed. America has that potential also.

    Finally, I have to say a word about Greeks and Greece. Great people, great traditions, great family values! There are many in my circle of friends here in Chicago as well as Europe. Best yet, in four short weeks I will take the family to Greece for a week of fun in the sun. Few things in life come close to a plate of souvlaki, a properly made frappe, and a comfortable chair at my favorite waterfront Taverna in Patra, watching the sun go down, as the ferries pass by.

    Vinny GOLD

  17. VG Chicago

    Wow! You guys and gals are tough. Give the guy a break. It’s Father’s Day, for crying out loud. :)

    Thanks Skippy for making it possible for me to do a little more Euro bashing today. Bashing follows:

    Indeed, I disdain the Europeans. Not the ones from the east, though. But the British, French, German, and Spanish arrogance is pretty hard to accept, especially when you see the hypocrisy of what “Old Europe” stands for. I hate to agree with Bush on this, but he was right about them. Despite the carefully crafted speeches (usually spewing out in no-longer-relevant languages such as French or German), the hypocrisy and superficiality of these people usually causes me a sort of mental allergic reaction.

    Let me illustrate this. People like Dominique de Villepin are so representative of the European bullsh*t that I've grown weary of in recent years. And, by the way, Mr. Villepin's full name is: "Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin"… Wow! Isn't that the name of a true nobleman, now! Yep, “His blood is bluer than the Danube is, or ever was”, isn’t it? To which, a poor American immigrant such as myself can only reply with: "screw you, and your nobility BS, Mr. Villepin, or Vile-Pimp, or whatever your name is today.” We, these inferior American immigrants, a nation of mutts, as you often refer to us, have put a few men on the Moon, have the best universities in the world, have invented the computer, it was an American, Al Gore, who “invented” the Internet, and I think we also invented the automobile, didn’t we? Plus, we saved your soft French asses from all that humiliating anal sex you were enjoying from Hitler under your Vichy regime.

    Wow! I’ve covered a lot of topics here… :)

    Vinny G.
    PS — Note to our European readers: the automobile remark above was a joke. As such, you do not need to vilify me and call me “uneducated” for that… Get it? Joke? Sense of humor? Laughter? Try it sometimes… without lots of wine in your bloodstream, if possible…

  18. run75441

    Leo:

    You are kidding right, about the Peterson Foundation and Social Security? Any org that tosses up a $56 trillion PV number as a scare tactic to gain the support of people to "whack" the only remaining sure thing to retire upon when 401ks went south with W$'s cliff-diving certainly is not concerned with me or my kid's future. In the short term, there is nothing wrong with SS or OASI. In the long term and if SS Witholding Taxes are not increased, the General Fund will have to start to repay the SS TF around 2017 (SS orojects) if the economy does not improve. The movement back and forth is nothing new Leo and that date could move back out again and well beyond 2020 (CBO says farther anyway). The 2017 date comes from IC projections and costs are somewhere between LC and IC, so indeed the date will be later. And what is the first year payments? ~#20 billion.

    The problem is not SS or OASI, it is healthcare and DI and Medicare/Medicaid. Each administration has chosen to ignore healthcare and the millions of people without it. He would be better off working towards healthcare for the millions who have been denied it to prop-up private healthcare and the business associated with it.

    Leo, God-bless your father and you; but leave Peterson to his own ilk and manner in which to atone for himself and find a way into heaven now that he is old.

  19. LeeAnne

    Mr. Peterson served in high level government positions including Chairman of the NY Fed 2000-2004 (the one that operates secretly exempt from FOIA) and finance. His career thrived during the period of greatest destruction of government oversight and regulatory responsibilities that has resulted in the merging of government and finance from which he has personally benefited at the expense of the American people.

    What follows is relevant to this posting because the Peterson book, his attempt at creating a new persona -casual Friday, smile and humble beginnings -marks the start of his campaign to go after and attempt to destroy the administration's agenda for the American people on health care reform. Therefore, a little more information is humbly offered to interested Naked Capitalism readers from "Irresponsible, Thy Name Is Peterson" February 20, 2009

    Link to Bill Scher's article at Blog for Our Future

    In advance of Monday's "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" at the White House, summit participant Pete Peterson and his foundation launched a $1 million ad campaign, irresponsibly peddling false information about the nation's budget.

    The ad begins: "Everyone's focused on the obstacles now facing our economy. But there's a much larger threat: 56 trillion dollars in unfunded retirement and health care obligations."

    But that is not a larger threat than the current economic crisis. In fact, it's not really a threat at all.

    The Nation's William Greider exposes Peterson's baseless alarmism:

    Peterson describes a "$53 trillion hole" [the number keeps going up apparently — ed.] in America's fiscal condition–but the claim assumes numerous artful fallacies. His most blatant distortion is lumping Social Security, which is self-funded and sound, with other entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. Those programs do face financial crisis–not because the elderly and poor are greedily gaming the system but because the medical-industrial complex has the profit incentive to drive healthcare costs higher and higher. Healthcare reform can solve the financing problem only if it imposes cost controls on private players like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

    And on yesterday's media conference call hosted by Campaign for America's Future — listen to the audio here — economist Dean Baker further illustrated the point:

    …we don't have an entitlement crisis. we have a health care crisis … the horror stories that the
    Peterson foundation and others have put out there, talking about $54 trillion unfunded liability — this is a health care story…

    …if we could zero out Medicare and Medicaid, we could just go "OK Mr. Peterson, you win, we're getting rid of Medicare and Medicaid tomorrow," our economy would still be devastated because we haven't fixed health care.

    (UPDATE: Baker's Center for Economic and Policy Research offers graphical proof, showing what our long-term budget would look like if we had the per capital health care costs of most other nations.)

    What's more irresponsible than using one's massive wealth to misinform the public and pressure politicians to make life worse for senior critizens? Maybe doing it in the name of "responsibility."

    Hopefully Monday's summit will be a responsible discussion about our long-term fiscal health, based on facts and not hysterical propaganda.

  20. VG Chicago

    Vinny here. I would like to take this opportunity and inform all our European readers that I hereby retract all the accurate and rightfully justified Euro bashing I have been carrying out here. I regret my past misguided efforts of exposing Euro hypocrisy and dragging it into the light from under the Euro rocks it often crawls under.

    The reason for my sudden change of heart, my glorious enlightenment, my divine epiphany if you will, is that I have just been officially notified via an email from the Nigerian Ministry of Culture and Genealogy, that I have inherited 10 Trillion Euros (that’s “trillion”, with a “T”). This official email also notified me that extensive research funded by the Nigerian Government has revealed that I, Vinny Gold, am blood-related to Napoleon I, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince”.

    Given the well-researched information in the previous paragraph, I now consider myself to be a wealthy, Western European blue-blooded aristocrat, a superior Arian being, cultured, beautiful, and erudite as well. Did I mention blue-blooded aristocrat?

    Therefore, I heretofore shall be referred to as “Vinny de Chicago” (accent on the last syllable, to sound more French, the language of the great Napoleon I, my ancestor and near-conqueror of mujics of peasanty Russia).

    Nonetheless, given I am now a true Western European aristocrat, I have also instantly become a racist, chauvinist, anti-Semite, and all-round Euro SOB. Therefore, please note that as Vinny de Chicago, my land dominion does not extend over the entire city of Chicago, rather only over the north side. This for obvious reasons.

    I now expect to be addressed as “Vinny de Chicago”. However, for historical reasons, “Yassa Euro Massa” is acceptable on the Deep South side…

    Vinny de Chicago

    PS – I was just told that Napoleon was actually Italian, but that’s obviously an lie perpetrated by the American CIA and the Jewish Mossad…

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