Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar II 5760 - March 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
He Who Loves Money Will Never Have Enough

About six months ago a writer named Michael Lewis published a book about Jim Clark, a man who can be called the embodiment of the technological revolution and the runaway financial success that has come in the wake of public fascination with the hi-tech wizardry and its promise for the future. Jim Clark first founded Silicon Graphics, an innovative computer graphics company, and then went on to found Netscape, the company that brought Internet browsing to the masses, and finally founded a true Internet company called Healtheon that made Clark a full-fledged billionaire.

Lewis had access to Clark for several years and his notes were permanent records of what he had said. He also interviewed friends and acquaintances from earlier days.

Way back when, before he had even started Silicon Graphics and worked for his living like most people, Clark said that what he really wanted was "to have $10 million."

Some time later, when Silicon Graphics was successful, Clark told one of his fellow workers there that when he made $100 million he would be happy.

A few years later, after Netscape, and when he was worth about $600 million, Clark told Lewis: "I just want to have a billion dollars, after taxes. Then I'll be satisfied."

Then his Healtheon stock took off. Only a few months later, with the exuberant stock market, Clark was worth over $3 billion. Author Lewis reminded him that he'd said not long before that when he was a full-fledged billionaire, he would stop. Lewis reports: "He now said, without missing a beat: `I just want to make more money than Larry Ellison. Then I'll stop.'"

At that time, Ellison, the head of the Oracle software company, was worth $9 billion. It was an ambition that Clark had never mentioned. On the other hand, at the rate Clark's wealth was booming, he might even attain that goal within a year.

Lewis pointed this out and asked: "What happens after you have more than Larry Ellison? Would you want to have more money than, say, Bill Gates?

"Oh, no," Clark said, . . . "That'll never happen." A few minutes later, . . . [however]. . . , he came clean. "You know," he said, "just for one moment, I would kind of like to have the most. Just for one tiny moment."

Lewis compares Clark to a racing dog who controls the mechanical rabbit that he is chasing, but constantly speeds it up to make himself run faster. It is a very entertaining and pithy description, but Lewis, though a pretty sharp observer, has apparently reached his own limit. He notes the obvious, that Clark "needed an excuse not to stop," but, he adds, "the reasons he couldn't stop were ultimately unknowable."

It is truly not easy to know why he could not stop, but the wisest of all men did tell us (Koheles 5,9): "He who loves money will never have enough money." It is a basic human character trait, and one who is infected will never be sated.

It is a very old problem, and even in the desert where money was obviously less attractive than it is in today's world, Moshe Rabbenu could not find judges who hated money (see Rashi on Devorim 1,15).

If the current financial frenzy in the world's stock markets is driven by greed, that is still not the key to knowing whether it will go up or down or how far. But it can be said that it is "up" to no good, and the Torah world should certainly be wary of its excesses.

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