This Is What It Costs to Be Rich

Our attempt to document the uncommon common costs for the uber-wealthy.

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When the US targeted Russia’s oligarchs after the invasion of Ukraine, the trail of assets kept leading to our own backyard. Not only had our nation become a haven for shady foreign money, but we were also incubating a familiar class of yacht-owning, industry-dominating, resource-extracting billionaires. In the January + February 2024 issue of our magazine, we investigate the rise of American Oligarchy—and what it means for the rest of us. You can read all the pieces here.

Even one of the original oligarchs of Russia, Boris Berezovsky—a fast-talking stereotype of a capitalist who made his fortune in the firesale of the old Soviet state—found there were unique costs to new wealth. Forbes called him a “gangland boss,” which meant he needed to sue for libel. Car-bombers wanted to kill him, so he needed security. As he fought his rivals in the emerging upper-crust, Berezovsky would end up paying for a myriad of lawsuits, homes, hostile takeovers, cars, boats, divorces, philanthropic endeavors, more homes (when he went into exile), financial assistance for a lesser royal, and payments to Chechen warlords to commit kidnappings. It costs a lot, it turns out, to be disgustingly rich.

Each oligarch is unique. But we wanted to outline the costs of the general “lifestyle creep” associated with unfathomable private power. Here is our attempt to document the uncommon common costs for the uber-wealthy: an oligarch consumer price index. See if you can guess any of the expenses.


How much does it cost to purchase citizenship in a Caribbean tax haven?

$250,000—The price of a Saint Kitts and Nevis passport like the one held by Harlan Crow.

For citizenship in a European Union tax haven?

$2.5 million—The estimated price of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s Cyprus passport.

For citizenship in a post-apocalyptic tax haven?

$2 million—The approximate amount spent by Palantir founder Peter Thiel in New Zealand when he submitted a citizenship application that was fast-tracked because of “exceptional circumstances” despite the billionaire only spending 12 days in the country.

How much does land in Hawaii cost?

$175 million—What Mark Zuckerberg paid for his ranch in Kauai (bunker not included).

What about a whole island in Hawaii?

$300 million—Larry Ellison’s reported purchase price for 98 percent of Lana’i in 2012.

And cursed islands?

$60 million—The price paid in 2023, by a Connecticut hedge-fund billionaire, to acquire Jeffrey Epstein’s two Caribbean retreats.

How much would just a vacation rental cost?

$1,600—The nightly rate at the “plasma house” owned by Thiel.

And what would be the price of a fishing lodge?

Over $1,000—The estimated daily cost of Justice Samuel Alito’s Alaska getaway with hedge-funder Paul Singer.

How much would the Constitution cost?

$43.2 million—What hedge-funder Ken Griffin shelled out for one of 13 original copies, after his son called him and said “Dad, you have to buy the Constitution.”

What about the cost of income taxes?

$0—The amount paid by Trump donor and real-estate magnate Stephen Ross over a ten-period.

What about the price of a yacht?

$500 million—The estimated cost of Jeff Bezos’s sailing ship Koru.

What about another smaller yacht to follow around the main yacht?

$75 million—The reported cost of the “support yacht” Bezos bought to accompany Koru.

And a submarine?

$7 million—The upper-end cost of the underwater excursion craft to go along with your yacht.

What about a Bond yacht?

$34 million—The reported 1991 sale price for the Trump Princess, which featured in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again.

What about a yacht used as bond?

$250 million—The price of Aviva, a yacht posted by British tax exile Joe Lewis as collateral after he was indicted in New York on insider-trading charges.

How much does a presidential campaign cost?

$1 billion—The estimated amount spent by Michael Bloomberg on his 2020 presidential campaign.

What about just getting some lobbyists?

$10 million —The approximate 2017 earnings for Florida mega-lobbyist Brian Ballard, after he became the lobbyist du jour in Trump’s Washington.

OK but what about for a Bob Dole?

$260,000—The amount paid to the law firm of late Senate Majority Leader by Oleg Deripaska for lobbying on behalf of the aluminum mogul to obtain a visa despite being officially banned from traveling to the United States.

A Rod Stewart?

$1 million—The rumored amount paid by Stephen Schwarzman for Stewart to perform at his 60th birthday party.

How much does security cost?

$23.4 million—the amount spent by Facebook in 2020 to protect Zuckerberg and his family, according to SEC filings.

What about a sheriff star?

$15 million—the amount spent by Howard Buffett—son of Warren—on a law-enforcement training center in Decatur, Illinois, shortly before he was named Macon County sheriff.

How much for food?

$599,409—The unpaid tab for Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX’s Margaritaville, according to bankruptcy filings.

How much for a Picasso?

$139 million—The cost of Le Rêve, when Steve Cohen attempted to buy it in 2006 from Steve Wynn.

How much for the same Picasso?

$155 million—The cost of the same painting (Le Rêve) when Cohen finally completed the purchase, seven years after the 2006 sale fell through because, while saying goodbye to the artwork, Wynn accidentally hit the painting with his elbow, defacing it in front of Nora Ephron.

How much for a car?

$641,000—The value of Alisher Usmanov’s bulletproof Mercedes-Maybach S650 Guard VR10, seized by Italian police in 2022.

How much for a blimp?

$250 million—The amount that employees “whisper,” according to Businessweek, that Sergey Brin has put into developing a company to build modern Zepplins to transport cargo and “darken” the sky.

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