Often, when we hear of some finance wizard accumulating a vast fortune at a young age just by moving money around, we grumble, "That rich asshole should just retire and give all his money away to charity." To our amazement, one richie is doing exactly that! Meet James Arnold, the billionaire who acts how you wish billionaires would act.
Arnold, who's only 37 years old, left Enron in 2002 to open his own hedge fund trading natural gas. In the next decade, he amassed a $4 billion fortune. Then, last year, he shut down his fund, telling investors in a rather remarkable letter that he was retiring to become a philanthropist: "[My wife and I] view our wealth in this light— not as an end in itself, but as an instrument to effect positive and transformative change." He announced that he was giving "a large portion" of his wealth to his foundation.
So: a multibillionaire, still in his prime earning years— a man who was able to become Enron's highest-paid employee at the age of 27 (and no, Enron's collapse wasn't his fault)— quit his incredibly profitable career in order to become a philanthropist. That's rather nice.
Plus, being a bright young whiz kid and all, Arnold is trying to spend his money where its effects will be the strongest, rather than putting his name on a fucking college building or some bullshit. From a WSJ profile of him today:
The Arnolds want to see if they can use their money to solve some of the country's biggest problems through data analysis and science, with an unsentimental focus on results and an aversion to feel-good projects—the success of which can't be quantified. No topic is too ambitious: Along with obesity, the Arnolds plan to dig into criminal justice and pension reform, among others...
Today, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation is bankrolling a $26 million nutrition study by Attia's nonprofit, an effort that involves the use of metabolic chambers and that Attia likes to call "the Manhattan Project of obesity." And that's just part of the splash the foundation is making: Out of virtually nowhere, the couple gave away or pledged $423 million last year, vaulting them to the third-highest givers in the country
We salute, John Arnold, and your cold-blooded and dead-eyed approach to making this world a better place. If every billionaire were like John Arnold, we would be slightly less apoplectic. (Momentarily).