December 5, 2005

"Any problems people have, money magnifies it so much, it's unbelievable."

The NYT has a long piece on that lottery winner we were talking about last week -- the man who built a replica of Mount Vernon and, soon enough, died there. His wife, you may remember, took her part of the money and built a geodesic dome and, soon enough, died there.
[Mack Metcalf] collected all-terrain vehicles, vintage American cars and an eccentric array of pets: horses, Rottweilers, tarantulas and a 15-foot boa constrictor.

He also continued to give away cash. Neighbors recall him buying goods at a convenience store with $100 bills, then giving the change to the next person in line. Ms. Metcalf said she discovered boxes filled with scraps of paper in his home recording money he had given away, debts he would never collect.

His drinking got worse, and he became increasingly afraid that people were plotting to kill him, installing surveillance cameras and listening devices around his house, Ms. Metcalf said. Then in early 2003, he spent a month in the hospital for treatment of cirrhosis and hepatitis. After being released from the hospital, he married for the third time, but died just months later, in December.
How much is a replica of Mount Vernon worth? It sold for half what it cost to build, $657,000. Maybe it should have sold for more, but the sad story behind it warded off buyers.


Matt Brown said...

Was it the sad story that warded off buyers, or the look of the house itself? I know that if I had tons of cash, I wouldn't buy it.

goesh said...

I'd have to settle for a traditional home in a gated community and a nice retreat home in some distant, isolated woods.

James said...

You know, I surely don't have the problems that that couple had, but I'd take my chances with problems and lots of money over problems and no money.
Or, at the least, if some guy was giving change from $100 bills, find where that guy shops and follow him everywhere.

knox said...

"Neighbors recall him buying goods at a convenience store with $100 bills, then giving the change to the next person in line."

This is the kind of thing I fantasize about being able to do if I won the lottery.

Dave said...

This seems to be a recurring theme among lottery winners. Those people with steady employment, who are educated about financial matters, probably are the least likely set of people to buy lottery tickets.

So, the set of people buying lottery tickets tends to be the marginally employed, the financially illiterate, etc. So, it should follow that, on average, a person who wins the lottery will have previously been at the margins of society.

Faced with a sudden financial windfall, but bereft of the training that a lifetime of managing money instills in one, the winner goes crazy, spends all his money on alarmingly stupid things, and then dies an early death.

I don't know why this fascinates people so much--this pattern seems as obvious to me as two plus two.

What is more interesting to me is that, despite the abundant evidence that lotterys are a taxation on being stupid and/or marginal, lottery officials insist that the lottery contributes to society. I suppose if by "contribute" lotter officials mean that lotteries rid society of some of the most perplexing examples of human failure, then, yes, lotteries contribute to society. But I don't think that's the way lottery officials like to couch the "benefits" of lotteries.

JodyTresidder said...

The British journalist Hunter Davies published "Living On The Lottery" in 1997 - a nice, light, scallywaggish series of interviews with people who hit the jackpot in the UK. Salted among the sorry tales of those who had spent unwisely, come to a sticky end (yay!) were one or two tales of precisely the opposite. They did seem to be the minority - but it made jolly depressing envy-making reading. (My proudly thrifty mother-in-law gave the book to my husband as a Christmas gift. She was, however, more amused than irritated that we insisted on getting the wrong message!)

stoqboy said...

I disagree with dave. I'll bet there is a continuum of responsible/irresponsible behavior associated with lottery winners. You just don't make the news if you aren't on the tail of the bell curve.

chuck b. said...

Dreams of lottery millions obliterate common sense. And I think it's sl. contagious.

I never even thought about buying a lottery ticket until I met my partner who buys a few tickets every month. He's an MBA/CPA and makes a good 3-4 times more money than I do working as a scientist.

I tried explaining the very remote chances of winning, how buying more than one ticket does not make you any more likely to win, etc., but he will have none of it.

Eventually, I gave up and now I buy a couple tickets every month too because I feel bad letting him take all the risk! Crazy is what it is.

Crow said...

This is a perfect excuse to quote the money speech from Atlas Shrugged:

"But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality--the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent."

Cat said...

Agree with Crow.

I don't think money had anything to do with the lousy ends of these people. It's not a cure for alcoholism, etc. They just kept leading poor lives in nice houses.

I have my own fantasy, but it's so simple. I wouldn't work (never having to put up with a job I am not happy in would be my only luxury), but volunteer at stuff I like and already do. Buy a house, and get a few dogs, and give my aging folks everything they need. I wouldn't tell anyone but my folks and the financial gurus I have worked to get advice and referrals. OK, so I fantasized a lot about it....