Would you rather be in the middle class today or the richest man in the world in 1836?
If it was possible to choose, would you prefer to live life in the middle class, struggling to get by in a lousy economy with an uncertain retirement, or would you rather live the life of Nathan Rothschild, who was the richest man on the planet when he departed this life in 1836?
John Kay discusses this idea in his article, Precise inflation figures ignore evolutions in product quality and consumer choice.
Mr. Kay points out that Mr. Rothschild was richer than either John D Rockefeller or Bill Gates. He was the second richest man in all of history.
Before you say you’d rather live his life than yours, consider this:
Rothschild died of septicaemia following an abscess, and in spite of buying the best medical attention available in Europe at the time. He had never been in a car, a train or an aircraft, nor visited the Taj Mahal, heard recorded music, seen a film, made a phone call or used electric light. … And he was dead at the age of 58 from an illness that could today be cured by an antibiotic costing a few pence. True, he could hire a fleet of carriages and eat off gold plate; but I would happily trade both for still being alive , and I suspect that Rothschild would have felt the same.
Richest man in the world, but dead at 58 from an infection curable by a simple Z-pak or a shot of penicillin.
My family has two carriages, neither of which require a barn to house the horses, tons of hay to keep them healthy, nor a team of groomsmen to make sure the horses and carriages are ready to go on a moments notice, nor half an hour to get ready for a trip. Oh, our carriages don’t get tired after a few hours; they can run as long as I could stay awake. Also, there are more than 200 horses attached to my carriage. I probably have power from more horses than Mr. Rothschild would have ever dreamed of owning.
So here is Mr. Kay’s question:
Was Rothschild really the second richest man in history? Was he, in fact, richer than me?
I think the answer is no, he was not the second richest man ever. He wasn’t even richer than me. I suggest he wasn’t as rich as someone living below the poverty line in the U.S. today.
There’s no better time to be alive than right now.