The Source of Bloomberg's Big Bucks
As of November 2019, Democrat presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was “the 12th richest person in the world, with a net worth estimated at $61.8 billion.” That quote came from this paragraph, which also gives one a sense of how quickly Mr. Bloomberg’s net worth has grown. On Valentine’s Day 2020, Forbes’ profile listed Bloomberg as the 8th richest person in America, and the magazine’s “real time net worth” gizmo calculated his wealth at $62.8B. Pretty soon we’re gonna be talking “real money.”
In March of 2009, Forbes pegged Bloomberg’s wealth at $16B, a $4.5B bump-up from the previous year, and “the world's biggest increase in wealth in 2009.” And that, mind you, happened during the financial crisis. Do a little math, and one sees that since 2008 Michael Bloomberg’s wealth has more than quintupled.
But just how did Mr. Bloomberg amass so much money? Well, it seems Mike has a product: the Bloomberg Terminal, a computer system widely used by the financial-services industry. In December, Vox ran “How Mike Bloomberg made his billions: a computer system you’ve probably never seen” by Emily Stewart. To subscribe to Bloomberg Terminal, go to the Bloomberg Professional Services division of the company, but know that it will set you back about “$20,000 to $25,000 per seat per year for fast access to information and the tools available with the proprietary trading platform.”
Information can be rather expensive, as it is the lifeblood of the equities market. Sad to say, but we can’t “share in the wealth” as Bloomberg L.P., Mike’s parent company, isn’t publicly traded. As the first version debuted in 1982, Bloomberg Terminal would seem to be the oldest part of Bloomberg L.P., which started up in 1981. A key fact to savor here is that despite the multiplicity of the divisions in Mike’s diverse far-flung conglomerate of a company, Bloomberg Terminal, the computer system, accounts for as much as 85 percent of its total revenue.
Since his company is primarily a software and computer services outfit, it’s fair to say that Bloomberg made his fortune off the backs of computer programmers. However, despite the impressive success of Bloomberg’s software business, the CEO himself didn’t program. Bloomberg sought to fix that problem by taking an online course. On Jan. 5, 2012 he tweeted: “My New Year's resolution is to learn to code with Codecademy in 2012!” The BBC reported: “It is not clear what Mr Bloomberg hopes to do with his new computer skills.” Such a musing is apt when one considers that five weeks after Mike’s tweet, he celebrated his 70th birthday. Maybe Mr. Bloomberg amused himself by writing a program that spits out prime numbers or does the knight’s tour. Whatever, he was smart enough not to give up his day job as the head honcho of an impressive global company.
Bloomberg’s rival for the Democrat nomination, Joe Biden, has suggested that displaced coal miners learn how to program computers. At the Daily Caller we read: “The former vice president similarly said during the July 31 Democratic debate that there would be no place for fossil fuels -- including coal -- under his administration.” And at a December event in New Hampshire, Biden said: “Anybody who can go down 300 to 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well… Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!”
It’s true that some Americans can quickly learn the rudiments of some high-level programming language, like COBOL, and then write a program to do some low-level task, like spit out some dinky report. But becoming a dependable programmer involves much more than knowing a programming language. This will be driven home when you get a 3 AM call to leave your warm bed and come into work. And when you arrive there and turn into your cubicle what do you see sitting in the middle of your desk but a foot-high stack of interconnected computer paper; it’s called a “core dump” and it’s all in hexadecimal code (i.e. machine language, not COBOL) and you’re supposed to find out what the hell happened to a batch update program that just blew up and which must run before the program that cuts the payroll checks can be run, and the program is not one that you wrote nor know anything about, but it’s a program that you must fix and pronto. And the thing is: the program that blew up might not even be the problem. So, to function as a programmer, you often need to be something of a sleuth, a detective.
This kid started programming computers before Mike Bloomberg formed his company in 1981, which means before the debut of the personal computer by IBM. It was during the “Age of the Mainframe Computer,” RIP. Back then, businesses and institutions had large staffs of applications programmers developing systems specifically for those enterprises. One couldn’t just saunter into Best Buy and buy a DVD to do your payroll, taxes, or whatever; your programmers had to write such software for you. And back in those hoary days of yesteryear when I would encounter jokers like Joe Biden pooh-poohing the difficulty of writing computer programs, I’d think about how quickly they could become dependable productive programmers. And what I came up with was: a minimum of a year of fulltime work and study. And that’s a year not for somebody “who can throw coal into a furnace,” but for your average PhD without experience in computers.
Of course, nowadays one can’t find PhDs without computer experience. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find Americans who don’t own computers, inasmuch as their smartphones are sophisticated computers. So virtually everybody has some experience with some kind of computer, even if it’s just the self-check-out lines at Walmart or an ATM. Despite that, it may be more difficult to learn programing now than 40 years ago, because computers do so much more now. Even when mainframes ruled the Earth, programmers had to continually be updating their knowhow by learning new programming languages, new operating systems, new access methods, etc. etc.
It’s a pity that at the aforementioned event when Biden spoke of the ease of learning to program that no one thought to ask the obvious question: Vice-President Biden, can you program? If Joe can’t program computers, then his observations on the ease with which coal miners can retrain and move into a radically different profession carry no weight and can be summarily dismissed. Now more than ever, it’s essential that our leaders know what they don’t know.
Unlike Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg is someone who appreciates the rigors of working in Information Technology. However, Bloomberg doesn’t appreciate the brains it takes to be a farmer, which Victor Davis Hanson passionately responded to on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. (For more of VDH on farming, listen to this podcast at Hoover.) Bloomberg’s “genius” was in correctly identifying a need 40 years ago and then filling that need. And to corner the market on market information, Mike had to hire a bunch of “nerds” who could program.
It should be fairly obvious that computer programming might not be quite as simple as Joe Biden thinks it is. If it were so simple, then why would some of the biggest personal fortunes in the world be those of people in the software biz? There was a time when Microsoft’s Bill Gates was the richest man on the planet. Biden’s claims about the ease of learning to program are facially false. (I’d say Mr. Biden needs a “core dump.”) But the question remains: What the devil is old Joe really planning to do about all the coal miners he’s planning to put out of work?
Jon N. Hall of ULTRACON OPINION is a programmer from Kansas City.