Death of a tycoon

January 7th, 2009

The Mirror on-line has reported the death of Adolf Merckle, a German tycoon who committed suicide after losing £2.4 billion in the credit crunch.

It’s a common mistake to think that people commit suicide because they are weak.

Putting aside suicide bombers and those who sacrifice themselves to save the lives of others, people kill themselves because their ability to appreciate their own value or their ability to understand the relative value of things in the world have become corrupted. Under severe stress, some people convince themselves they are such failures that the world and their loved ones would actually be better off without them.

Others experience psychological pain, which often expresses itself as acute physical pain, so severe that they become convinced that the only escape is death. Suicide is the ultimate expressing of self-harming.

Mr. Merckle’s sad case shows us how detached from reality many very rich people are. Apart from some notable philanthropists such as Bill Gates (yes, it’s fashionable to hate him as the face of Microsoft, but the man donates billions to good causes) and Warren Buffet, so many billionaires seem to see the amassing of wealth as an end in itself.

Think about it. What was Bernard Madoff planning to do with $50 billion? The number is so beyond normal comprehension as to be meaningless. It strikes me that it was not the money itself that was important to him, but the thrill of hoodwinking so many supposedly clever people.

And that brings me back to the late Mr. Merckle, who was not left destitute, by the loss of £2.4 billion, something which might test anyone’s sanity.

No, Mr. Merckle lost £2.4 billion of his £8.6 billion fortune, leaving him with a mere £6.2 billion on which to scrape by. Clearly a man who lost all sense of value a long time ago.

The real losers are his family and the poor driver of the train in front of which Adolf Merckle  threw himself. I don’t see that train driver feeling much sympathy for a man who was left with enough money to give everyone on the planet a pound.

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