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How about those billionaires...

By Dian Vujovich

One of Palm Beach’s very own billionaires, Jeff Greene, certainly has gotten his mug plastered all over thanks to his point of view regarding how he thinks the other 99 percent in America ought to live.

While in Davos at the invitation-only World Economic Forum this month, Greene was one of the 1700 who flew in on a private jet for the gathering of the world’s elite. This year’s theme, “The New Global Context”, centered on major global challenges. That theme provided him with an opportunity to tell the press that he thinks the less financially privileged folk—-that would be nearly all of us in the U.S,— need to change the way they live.

According to The Daily Mail, Greene said, “’America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence…..We need to reinvent our whole system of life.”

This from a guy who, in November, listed the Beverly Hills 25-acre estate he owns, Palazzo di Amore, for $195 million. If, per chance, it were to sell for that amount, he’d make another real estate-related killing. This time not by betting against subprime mortgages—how he made his fortune— but by betting that the value of this estate would go up: He purchased Palazzo di Amore when it was in receivership for $35 million seven years ago from a Saudi businessman. Selling it for $195 million would mean $160 million to him.

As a purely unconfirmed and only imagined aside, who knows, maybe that Saudi businessman found himself in a financial mess after the price of oil dropped? After all, in 2006 oil was selling around $79 a barrel. One year later, in May of 2007, it had dropped to $65. Could be? But really I have no idea of who the Saudi individual was or of his particular financial situation. I do know, however, that Greene’s keenly focused real estate eye spotted an investment opportunity and he took it.

Back to Greene’s how-we-oughta-live pronouncement. He’s 60 now and the older we get most of us do indeed learn that less is more. So maybe Greene is beginning to practice what he is preaching.

After all, Palazzo di Amore apparently comes complete with a 3,000-bottle wine cellar, 12 bedrooms, 23 bathrooms, 5,000 square foot master suite, etc. And, a 15,000–square-foot entertainment complex that includes a bowling alley, theatre, a disco with rotating dance floor, etc, according to Coldwell Banker.

That’s living beyond hugely large for a guy with a wife and from what I’ve heard not a boatload of children.

So maybe, just maybe, Greene has learned that stuff isn’t everything. And from that perspective, he is a lot like the 99 percenters—many of whom have had to downsize in order to keep a roof over their heads during the still lingering recession we are living through. So even though he didn’t lose his job, or have to move in with relatives in order to be able to take care of his family, sign up to collect food stamp as millions of Americans need to do today or be among the 70 million on Medicaid, maybe he has learned from a distance that there is so much more to life than living large.

Then again, who am I kidding?

The intrinsic value and beauty in learning to live with less and/or having little to live on isn’t as much about learning to live simply as it is learning about humility and to keep your mouth shut and not tell those less fortunate how to live their lives. In this area, many of the 99 percenters are far wealthier than some billionaire 1-percenters.

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