For those who managed to skip reading the news last week out of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the only thing really worth noting was an exquisite self-parody of the whole billionaires-jetting-off-to-Davos set provided by a Florida investor named Jeff Greene.
“America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence,” Greene told Bloomberg in an interview in Davos. “We need to reinvent our whole system of life.”
He went on to it express his concern for the economy as the continuing transition to knowledge-based work destroyed the jobs and wages of more and more people who work in manufacturing and other middle-income occupations.
This isn’t necessarily controversial to say things like that, at Davos or anywhere else. What’s controversial is that he’s the one who said it.
Greene is best known as an investor for making a lot of money in the Great Recession by betting against sub-prime debt securities. But he’s just as well known for his grand lifestyle, and Bloomberg noted that he flew to Davos for the week on a private jet with his wife, kids and two nannies.
In fact, Greene’s lifestyle is so grand that he rivals Jay Gatsby in his utter lack of interest in any system of life that means having less things and a smaller, better existence.
Although it’s not clear he ever really lived in it, one of his homes is called the Palazzo di Amore, or Palace of Love, on 25 acres in Beverly Hills, Calif. This place includes a vineyard that produces hundreds of cases of private label wine a year, along with a bowling alley, cinema and rotating dance floor. Its 53,000 square feet of living space has 23 bathrooms and 12 bedrooms, including a 5,000-square-foot master bedroom.
That house, where he was married in 2007, burst into the news last year when, according to Yahoo Homes, it was the country’s most expensive personal residence. He listed it for sale for $195 million.
He owns two other places in Southern California, his principal residence in Florida and, as befitting a titan of finance, a place on Long Island east of New York City. The Long Island property is a 55-acre estate called Tyndal Point with 3,000 feet of beachfront. And it only cost $36 million.
The 60-year-old Greene made his money in real estate and investments, but he has run for Congress as a Republican and more recently for the U.S. Senate in Florida as a Democrat. It was during the latter failed campaign that news broke about some party mischief that reportedly took place aboard his 145-foot yacht called the Summerwind.
Really, it’s hard to make stuff like this up.
Bloggers and the New York tabloids lit up in the past few days as there was no way to play his comments on the economy as anything other than the self-crowned King lecturing the serfs from the palace balcony.
But the reality, as always, is more complex. Greene has committed himself to the Giving Pledge, for example, which calls for the wealthiest people to give away most of their assets.
And he pointed out, also in the Bloomberg interview, that his office in Florida is right next to the big hotel where he once worked as a busboy and waiter. And what he wants, he said, is for there to continue to be opportunities like he had for this generation of busboys.
To be more effective as a spokesman for economic good sense, however, he might try selling another of his houses.