A million dollars isn’t what it used to be. 1 million Australian dollars in 1973 (50 years ago) would be worth over 11 BILLION AUD in 2023. Certainly, nobody would complain at receiving a million dollars whenever it happened, and it would be enough to set you up for life if you were smart about it, but it’s not the immediate “quit your job, do whatever you want” ticket it once was.
So for this thought experiment, I decided to take a more corpulent number in today’s terms, a billion, and think about what my life would look like if that amount of money magically appeared in my bank account, no strings attached.
What would I do with it?
Pay off loans, buy houses, gifts to friends/family, travel around the world, live in the lap of luxury. Let’s get this one out of the way. We’ve all fantasised extensively about the wonders we could experience with an unlimited budget, and I think anyone who earns a huge windfall like this would undoubtedly relax and live it up for a while. I certainly would.
But that isn’t the focus nor the thesis of this blog post, because I contend that for many, myself included, there would come a time (maybe months, maybe years down the line) where even the most magnanimous of consumption wouldn’t be enough, in the sense that I would want to give back, to contribute something and make a mark on the world, make it a better place.
Now, the big caveat here is that this first phase may well change me enough that the remaining items on the list change as a result. I hope not, but it’s entirely possible. But let’s assume that I emerge from this phase of pure experience enriched and energised, but with much the same dreams as before.
Invest. This is another no-brainer, but the remaining items on the list are not going to be started with the aim of making a profit. With a billion dollars I can easily make a self-sustaining fund from which to sink huge amounts of money into the things I care about and not have to care in the slightest if they make a profit or not.
Now, onto the good stuff!
Defend the world’s forests. Over 80% of New Zealand used to be forest (source). A chunk of my money would go to buying up all the forests, particularly old-growth forests, that I can get my hands on, world-wide, and either keeping them privately-owned or handing them over to conservation organisations to protect and nurture. Forests hold a special mystique and wonder for me as they do for many, and too much of the world views them merely as a resource to be exploited.
A fiction magazine dedicated to unpublished authors. Many fiction authors are encouraged to start with short stories before they tackle novels, and many professional-paying short fiction magazines won’t even consider you until you can say in your submission “my work has previously appeared in A, B, and C.” Getting that first credit, that first paying published piece, is a stepping off point for authors, and a source of validation and encouragement that they can make their dream a reality. I would start a short fiction magazine that only accepts submissions from unpublished authors and pays professional rates. I want as many people who yearn to become professional fiction writers to succeed, and giving them a destination that accepts them with open arms will help them on their way.
If I like how this goes, I could even double down on this to establish grants for aspiring novelists, or even make a full-on publishing house for novels.
A record label. Just like with writing, there are people out there with ideas for music that can enrich others’ lives but can’t commit to making those ideas real because they have to contend with holding down a fucking job. I want to break those people out of the heinous cycle of capitalism and give them album-and-tour deals with complete creative control at very generous terms. I don’t care about making money off this – I want to kickstart these bands and music artists and send them on their way so they can inspire others and make this world a better place.
Because this is a private venture, all the people I hire to help these bands along will have to share the ethos. This is not about making albums that will make money back, this is about giving aspiring artists a chance to make their vision real. Certainly the artists can seek advice from the staff (who will hopefully know about the industry etc), but in the end, what the band decides goes.
This label will probably lean towards metal music, especially metal music that tells good stories (because that’s the music I like) but I’ll do my best to be flexible.
The Mythic Tales Festival. The name’s a work-in-progress, okay? This is a music festival that goes all around the world, and exclusively features bands that have written concept albums playing those albums in full from start to finish. I can’t believe no one has done this already.
It’s hard to overstate the impact concept albums have had on my life. From American Idiot by Green Day, the very first album I ever listened to properly when I was maybe 13, to Deep Blue by Parkway Drive, an album that both soothed and exploded my teenage disillusionment and misanthropy, to practically everything by Coheed and Cambria, to Vessels by Be’lakor, which I have already written about extensively, to The Forest Seasons by Wintersun… concept albums, collections of songs that together tell a story, speak to my soul in a way that nothing else does. These need to be celebrated so much more than they are, and I would be willing to sink a lot of money into a festival that brings these juggernauts of musical storytelling together so the world can experience them.
My game dev studio, Fallen Studios. I have my own ideas for stories I want to tell, and a few of them are written fiction but a lot of them work best with interactivity. Fallen Studios would be the venture I would personally spend the most time actually working in since I have relevant skills – I know programming and I have the vision for stories. I don’t know how to make art, and I don’t know game design. Certainly I could learn, but with money effectively not being an object I’d love to hire people like a game designer, an artist, a music composer, and maybe even a writer to help me hone my ideas. We could work as a little game studio making games that exalt nature, challenge eldritch horrors, and tell heart-wrenching tales. If it goes well, I could take more of a directorial role, hiring more people to do the day to day work with me being responsible for the vision. I’m unsure how much I’d want to keep doing programming itself, but I’m always of the view that executives need to understand what goes on in the day to day of their companies, so I’d probably continue doing that to help keep me humble and to keep my skills sharp.
Fallen Studios would have a strict no crunch policy and overtime would be scrutinised. Salaries would be high. Flexible working arrangements, the whole deal. I want to make games with enthusiastic people and I want us all to be happy while we do it.
You can see the shape of where all this is going. The billionaire version of DJ turns out to be a huge patron of the arts, with a side of environmental conservation. If anyone has a spare billion dollars lying around, I can promise I’ll do good things with it.
What would you do with a billion dollars? After all the travel and gorging and sleeping and partying and experiencing was done, if ever, what would you do then?
People want to live meaningful lives. For me, meaningful means protecting Earth and promoting the arts. I am not unique. If I would take these unbelievable riches and use them to start businesses, help others pursue their dreams, and help the world, then lots of other people would too.