Once you eliminate serial killers, rapists and dictators, it's hard to think of a less likable person than Donald Trump -- and yet he's the poster boy for flamboyant wealth. Forbes ranks him at number 368 on its list of the world's billionaires, with a net worth of $3 billion. New York Times Sunday business editor Timothy O'Brien claimed in a book that Trump is actually worth less than $250 million, and Trump is suing him.
Why is Trump suing him? Here's what's so despicable: Trump's ability to make money is entirely dependent on the public's perception of him as a billionaire. He charges $1.5 million per speaking appearance at Learning Annex events and, according to Forbes, "Now other builders pay him millions to license 'Trump' brand." Indeed one of the central claims in O'Brien's book, which I highly recommend, is that most of the buildings bearing the Trump logo are not even owned by The Donald.
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Indeed, the Trump Empire appears to be little more than an elaborate shell game: kid is born to very rich family, inherits a ton of money, proceeds to lose it all in the 1990 real estate crash, narrowly skirts bankruptcy, and then rebuilds his career as a mogul, convincing legions of gullible people through flagrant self-promotion that he is a major success. If people clue in to the fact that Trump's empire is a house of cards, the whole facade will fall apart.
Meanwhile, the one publicly traded piece of the "Trump empire" is flailing. Trump Entertainment Resorts (NASDAQ: TRMP), which controls the Atlantic City casino resorts bearing his name, is trading at $1.15 per share. It began 2007 at over $18. But don't feel too bad: Trump still milked the company for $2 million in compensation for chairing the company's board of directors in 2007, on top of $498 thousand spent on Donald Trump water (Trump Ice), for which he presumably receives a royalty. Hey Donald: given that shareholders have seen their stock lose 90% of its value in less than 2 years, don't you think you could throw in the water?
But in a way, you have to admire Trump. He's overrated because of his own shameless bragging, and now he's using that status to make millions.