Why are so many billionaires unhappy

Young, rich, unhappy

WELT am SONNTAG: Mr. Wittenborn, since your sister married into the billionaire Johnson clan, you have been an intimate connoisseur of America's billionaires. Are the hearts of the East Coast Aristocrats really as cold as a car seat in winter?

Dirk Wittenborn: I don't like generalizations. My novel "Unter Wilden" and the interview film "Born Rich" rather address the influence that power, class and money exert on individuals. The effects can be very different.

WamS: Finn Earl, the hero of your puberty novel, quickly realizes that growing up among rich means nothing more than gradually losing character.

Wittenborn: As a young man in Pottersville, New Jersey, I came into contact with the otherwise closed world of the super-rich. I was always a poor, pathetic boy to the people who populate this world, since my father was just a college professor. So I learned early on how harmful the influence of money can be, how unhealthy it is to live in a class system that is also said to be non-existent.

WamS: For many, prosperity and influence are the prerequisites for a self-determined and decent life. You speak of money and wealth as if you were dealing with a virus.

Wittenborn: A virus that has crept into society completely unnoticed! In the United States, people grow up believing in an equality that doesn't exist. The wealthy cannot fail at all. If the average American fails, he usually blames himself for it, becomes fat and engages in cybersex-like activities. It would never occur to him to hold society accountable. He would never ask the question why there have so far only been very wealthy presidential candidates.

WamS: The survival artist RĂ¼diger Nehberg called for solidarity with the threatened jungle culture of the Yanomami Indians, with whose rites and customs you have often enough compared the American way of life. What can we do to bring what you consider to be a degenerate generation of heirs back into the social boat?

Wittenborn: The Yanomamis are much easier to save because they have one thing ahead of America's billionaires: They are honest. They regard all non-Yanomamis equally as if they are less valuable or non-existent at all. The money aristocracy in the USA pretends to be more satisfied, even happier, than the middle class, but is completely liberal. In a world in which happiness and contentment count very much, this is a very similar process to that of the Amazon Indians, but much more hypocritical.

WamS: So are humans naturally hostile, as the Yanomami explorer Napoleon Chagnon saw? Or do civilized people only develop back to "savages" once they have reached a certain income class?

Wittenborn: If money defines the freedoms of the individual or even makes it available for sale, property can poison people. Money in isolation: If you are a billionaire, you are expected to do something very special. This pressure can be very lonely.

WamS: Unhappy too?

Wittenborn: The working population has so much to do that they don't even notice how unhappy they actually are. Billionaires don't necessarily work. You have enough time to devote yourself to the question of how limited, how simple-minded and limited the earthly joys of human existence are. Because this is how it is with human nature: The state of wishing is the most beautiful state that we can dream of, it can be compared to the movement with which a hand slowly closes around an object. If you keep your fist closed, this item is yours: you own it and you will soon start to get badly bored.

WamS: Some of those polled for Born Rich were considering legal action against you and director Jamie Johnson, who you are related to; Stephanie Ercklenz, the daughter of billionaire and society lady Mia Harrisson, laughed at you in front of the camera. Are you now considered a class traitor in certain circles?

Wittenborn: There were also pleasant experiences. Just take a media giant's $ 20 billion heir, S.I. Newhouse IV: He is an intelligent, sincere young man. He came to realize that every adolescent in the US realizes that the middle class is at the heart of society. The middle class is America's hallmark. Those who do not belong to the middle class are in turn lonely. You see They see ...

WamS: ... that everything you say comes down to one sentence: Money alone does not make you happy either.

Wittenborn: My pity for the billionaires of this world is limited. On the one hand, it is an exhausting job to be rich, since as a money aristocrat you are mostly concerned with becoming famous as well. On the other hand, the young billionaires are always trying to keep their money, expand their lands and spend a large amount of the capital they have generated. In an economy where the arcades look like cathedrals and the cathedrals look like arcades, the lavish buyers are the blessed.

WamS: How do you assess the influence of George W. Bush on this development?

Wittenborn: Bush is still a rich kid in terms of thinking and physiognomy. In general, in our country you need $ 60 million to become governor, otherwise you don't really need anything. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and father of the very life-wise Georgina Bloomberg, showed how it can be done.

WamS: Do you actually know the phrase "There is nothing beneath surface, and so is depth"?

Wittenborn: Certainly you can make fun of anything, I just don't know what would be gained with it. I always prefer the depth to the surface view. Look at my country. See what happened to it. Then laughter can be beneficial. But it is always seriousness. But now I have to stop, because I have fleas in my house.

Interview conducted by Ingo Romeo Mocek

"Unter Wilden" by Dirk Wittenborn, Dumont