Now take a Donald Trump. No matter how greedy he is there's only just so much he can buy. At some point his money is just sitting around, doing nothing. He'll invest some of it, lose some of it, etc. But He's only got so much time in the day to do that. Eventually it becomes a war chest laying around doing nothing.
Except, that isn't how it works. That money is doing something, somewhere, all the time. No, he doesn't have it in a shoe box.
It is also not sitting idle in a bank account, but even that has benefits to the balance sheets of a bank. It is in investment companies being invested into new companies that will create jobs.
No it's not. It's really not.
Trump is probably a bad example because he goes bankrupt all the time, but pick any other hundred-millionaire or billionaire and look at where their money is. It is NOT in new companies. It is in old companies. It's in the stock market, chasing fewer and fewer stocks, driving their valuations to stratospheric levels completely divorced from the P/E ratio of the companies involved. It's creating bubbles in stocks, in commodities, in real estate, jumping from "sure thing" to "sure thing" with manic desperation. It most definitely is not creating new companies and new jobs. Look at the statistics for both job creation and small business creation. Both are effectively nonexistent.
Why? Let's examine the reasons.
The four Walton siblings collect approximately $3 billion dollars per year in Walmart dividends, every year. That's cash money that has to go somewhere, and even the most lavish of all possible lifestyles can't suck it up, so of course some large fraction of that cash gets reinvested. According to Forbes, the four of them together control $144 billion. Much of that is Walmart stock, but the rest is wherever those dividends have been reinvested.
Let's try to put that number into perspective. They could, in theory, get together and buy outright any but the largest 36 publicly traded companies in the world. That includes names like Honeywell, ConocoPhillips, Goldman Sachs, Caterpillar, Walgreen, and Monsanto, to name but a few. Any two of them could buy General Motors and have at least $16 billion left over. Any one of them could buy Tesla Motors and have at least $9 billion left over.
Except, of course, they can't. It's not possible. Even if Alice Walton decided tomorrow that she really wanted to get out of consumer retail and into car manufacturing, she can't buy Tesla Motors. The NASDAQ couldn't take the shock. She'd have to liquidate some large fraction of her Walmart holdings, which would cause Walmart's share price to go through wild fluctuations as other billionaires tried to figure out what she's doing and whether or not she knows something they don't know about Walmart's health as a business. The NASDAQ circuit breaker would kick in, WMT would stop trading, and her brothers and sister would be on the phone yelling, "What the hell are you doing?!"
That's at the top end of what's conceivable, but not possible. Now let's consider the bottom end. Say, instead of a big splash, Alice Walton decides to use her ~$700 million in 2014 Walmart dividends, basically pocket money for her, to start a new business. Again, for the sake of comparison, let's consider a subject near and dear to Slashdot's heart, SpaceX. Elon Musk invested $100 million into SpaceX by the 4th year of its operations, according to the New York Times, quoting his own public statements. Alice Walton could, using one year of cash earnings from Walmart, invest seven times what Elon Musk invested into SpaceX in four years into her own new rocket company.
So where is it? Where's the new rocket company? SpaceX has done its capitalistic best to demonstrate that it's downright easy to compete with the United Launch Alliance, signing 46 launch contracts in a handful of years, demonstrating vast untapped demand, demand that pundits claimed didn't even exist just 5 years ago.
Ok, maybe rockets are too hard. Where's the new car company? Not a Walton family endeavor either. Tesla Motors stock has gone up by a factor of 450! Isn't capitalism about efficient (read, high return) investment? Yet the Waltons are nowhere to be found.
Ok, maybe any capital-intensive industry is asking too much. How about a new knowledge company? Technology and knowledge work are The Future, right? So where's the next technology-driven startup, funded by Walton family pocket change? Google? Nope. Twitter? Nope. I could go on, but let's just cut to the chase. There aren't any at all.
So where is Walton family money going? $1 billion of it went into an art museum in Arkansas, including as much as $35 million just to buy a single exhibit for it. That's about the only visible thing it has done in decades. The rest of those billions in dividends have disappeared into 20-some-odd estate tax avoidance schemes, as if the only purpose of billions of dollars is to make sure your children unto the 15th generation never have to work a day in their lives, while not paying a dime in taxes to a government.
Because of that intended purpose, the wealth management companies handling those trusts are doing what wealth management companies have to do: investing in "sure things." Fortune 500 stocks. Bonds. Mutual funds. Commodities. Real estate. In short, nothing risky, nothing new, nothing that creates jobs or even actual wealth. Most of what they do just makes numbers bigger.
Why? Because the 400 people who control over 50% of the wealth in the country are the most risk averse in the entire country. The people most able to lose money are least willing to lose money, and this has been true for more than a century.
So yes, in effect, the money of billionaires really is sitting in a shoebox. A very large shoebox to be sure, but it's hiding, because of the massive aversion to risk of its owners. Even without the risk aversion, a very large fraction of it is tied up in artificially inflated valuations of a handful of megacorporations, unable to move because it would deflate its own bubble if it did.
There's more to be said, about the indivisibility of human attention and concentration and the badly erroneous assumption that it is useful to model government as a business, but this post is overlong already. I've detailed some of the argument how correct the GP's point is. It will have to do.