The only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever.
August 9, 2007 4:50 PM   Subscribe

plotplanningfilter: By what means could an immortal human manage to build up a fortune and be able to use it through the ages? What if he reincarnated?

In the Middle Ages and before it would be easy to fake his own death and claim to be his own son by moving around and disappearing a few years. However in the present how would that work? What about the tax recollection agency? I'm thinking that a Trust company would work but I'm not sure and I would like to make it as realistic as I can.

However what if the man wasn't immortal in the literal sense and simply reincarnated with full awareness of his past lives? Would a trust still work? Maybe building up a company and manage to get employed there every time would work?

I'm more interested in the second escenario but both are useful for my purposes. Thanks.
posted by Memo to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This question is quite related and may have some useful information.
posted by bove at 5:20 PM on August 9, 2007

The question I linked to, does have some interesting stuff, but isn't that applicable to the situation you propose. The main difference is that in your scenario the individual is around to maintain his/her fortune. In this case there are many possible sources of revenue. For instance in Highlander, the main character saves items and is an antiques dealer in the present day. He also transfers his identity be taking on the identities of babies that die.
posted by bove at 5:29 PM on August 9, 2007

To what extent does he remain "the same person"? Does he, having been reincarnated, still care to pursue his previous goals? Does he have the same degree of diligence each time? Presumably he reincarnated as a baby; does he have an emotional attachment to each set of parents? Has 'he' ever reincarnated as a woman? As a non-human?

Do you see this more as a continuity of memory, or as an inheritance of a titular position? Consider analogies: what relationship and obligations does the 12th Earl of Broadshire have to the previous 11? The Dalai Lama to his 'predecessors'? The CEO of the East India Trading Company to previous CEOs? The Pharaoh of Egypt?

How much does his own personality change, down through the ages? He won't just see friends grow old and die; over the course of five hundred years one sees economic systems and nations rise and disappear. Concepts such as wealth may, in this character's lifetime, change in meaning.

What are this character's religious beliefs? His view of himself? Other immortals? If he is the only immortal, why shouldn't he rule the rest of humanity, because we are so much short-lived rabble in comparison? Whatever attitudes he has to non-immortals (their protector, their predator, their potential victim, or something to be left well alone), he has those attitudes for reasons. Who has he been, in his past "lives"? Anyone famous? Does he still bear guilt for past crimes? Resent past failures? Does he bear grudges against races and nations now gone, and to what extent does he indulge these?

Do his psychological scars heal? His traumas fade? How has he reacted to loss of religious faith, bereavement, torture (victim or torturer), death and killing in battle? Can he learn from past mistakes and adjust his behavior? Is he still mentally a member of his birth culture, with their prejudices and attitudes, or is he culturally as free as a bobbing balloon, with no personal investment whatsoever in issues such as social class, status of women, racial conflict, religious beliefs, etc, or is he somewhere in between?

Does he have a sex life as such? A desire to make more copies of himself, however this process may work? Does he have children? Are most of humanity now his genetic descendants? Are his children loved, or are they just walking spare parts to him (cf Vandal Savage, DC Comics)?

You should definitely read Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein, and the graphic novel Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman (part of the Sandman series).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:33 PM on August 9, 2007 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oops, I missed the original question. :)

Faking your own death only recently became even vaguely difficult. It was easy enough as late as the 1960's. Even today, if you can fake or can get faked documents, are prepared to move out of jurisdictions, and are prepared to kill someone else to create a dead body for yourself, sure, you can do it.

Caching is the way to go IMO. Someone like this, after they've lived a few hundred years and realized they're immortal, if they're the sort of personality that plans, they'll probably spread caches of stuff for themselves. Whatever they think they'll need - whatever they considered valuable. Gemstones are good. Gold is good. Weapons of various kinds.

Rather than directly passing on ownership of companies etc, convert back and forth from saleable goods. Whatever is small, valuable, and ideally, not deadly to the touch: that's what our immortal will buy. Antiques and art are good - hell, he can fake the styles easily enough, if he was there. He will have developed an affectation for personal jewelry - it's easy to flee with it and sell it. Though if he realizes he looks ostentatious, he'll store some of it.

Setting up a cult, or order, for pure economic reasons might occur to him. Perhaps a sacred duty handed down from generation to generation of humans to preserve and protect the character, would be a better form of economic continuity than anything established by law.

His need for money will depend on his "price of power". If all he has to do is drink a litre of blood once every couple of days, he needs very little money. If he burns up in sunlight, and is in a coma during the day, he needs enough money to keep a safe place for himself. If he turns into a statue for a dozen years in order to refresh his physical form, he needs to have the statue guarded, which means it needs to be in the capital city of the greatest nation of the time ... although that may change today, given the potential existence of suitcase nukes.

Money funds continued existence by providing the means for that continuation and defense against threats to it. Knowing these factors, you will have a better idea of how and why the character gets money, and what means he might have of ensuring he can get access to it in the long term.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:51 PM on August 9, 2007

posted by kickback at 6:19 PM on August 9, 2007

i think it would have been harder to do in medieval times than in present times. today, you can your estate to whoever you choose through a will. he leaves his estate to joe schmoe, an identity he has secretly assumed, or whatever.

in medieval times, inheritance was based on blood line. there were no wills in the modern sense. further, illegitimate children were outside the bloodline, and not entitled to inheritance. someone could not just show up and assume the role of heir to a recently deceased lord. that is not plausible. the legitimate heir would have been baptised by the local bishop, for example. and in medieval times, there was no real way to authentic any such claim, no genetic tests or anything.
posted by Flood at 6:21 PM on August 9, 2007

Response by poster: One of the problems about both situations is that what would happen if suddenly the economical situation of his new identity changes. Wouldn't that make the tax people suspicious? How would he justify that? I'm thinking about money laundering but I'm not sure how well that would work.

@aeschenkarnos: Your first answer, while not entirely related to this question, is definitely good for character building purposes. Thanks!
posted by Memo at 6:34 PM on August 9, 2007

Why bank it? Assuming he (she) has plenty of time, place caches. A portion here, a portion there, hidden in whatever way makes sense. Split it up, so that the loss of one cache isn't the loss of all the money (i.e., buried treasure in forest is discovered by farmer, or developers build over the land). Also relevant: does the individual know when death will come? This would affect preparation. And how long between incarnations? If he spawns as a 30 year old guy a few days after the previous incarnation 'dies', then the cache doesn't have to survive long; if he has to wait until he comes of age, or if there's a 100-year dormant period, that's a different story.

Caches also lead to other possibilities. What about a Swiss bank account like the one described in The Da Vinci Code (minimum 50-year rental, keys are often passed from generation to generation)? Doing that, and 'caching' the key, would allow for different caches than just burying a shitload of bills or gems or whatever.

Now I'm thinking about what to put in the cache. If you're going to place valuable items there (rather than a key), what form? Currency is quick to move and easy to use, but gems and precious metals are perhaps less risky. Papers - stock, land ownership, etc - might be one way to store a lot of wealth, but they're very volatile. Again, this goes back to the question of how long our protagonist is gone between incarnations.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:55 PM on August 9, 2007

Use your ageless hotness to marry someone old and wealthy. Outlive them and inherit. Repeat as necessary.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:14 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

(The usual relationship problem with young hotness and someone much older is the gap of immaturity and lack of life experience. Your immortal doesn't have that drawback, and so can out-compete the other golddiggers)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:16 PM on August 9, 2007

Reservations are easily obtained, since they can be booked once the patron returns to his or her original time after their meal, and the restaurant's bill can be paid by depositing a penny in any bank account of the present time: by the end of the universe, compound interest will be enough to pay the extremely high bill.
-the restaurant at the end of the universe
posted by knowles at 7:21 PM on August 9, 2007

Response by poster: The protagonist has to wait until puberty before getting his memories back. Of course there have been occasions where he has died before that happens but that just resets the situation and he gets another incarnation somewhere else.
posted by Memo at 7:23 PM on August 9, 2007

As for the other questions - I suggest finding a doctor, offering them mega$$$ to do a house-call birth delivery for the golddig-marriage couple for a pregnancy that never existed, and create all the birth documentation for the non-existant child. Then the family can dissappear overseas for a few years, and return to the country many years later as the now-grown child, or just reincarnate appropriately.
In short, bribe a doctor to create an heir to the fortune, to be used either via reincarnation, or by assuming the identity.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:23 PM on August 9, 2007

How did they do it in Highlander?
posted by inigo2 at 7:41 PM on August 9, 2007

Best answer: An offshore bank or corporation. Swiss, Cayman, or Bahamanian. Basically, ImmortalGuy should establish an offshore bank. Offshoring keeps everything nice and private.

He has two problems:

1) He will accumulate so much money so soon (relative to him) that regardless of the vessel that holds the money (corporation, etc) it will attract scrutiny and attention.

2) He will have to cycle through identities with some regularity. ReincarnationGuy doesn't have that problem, because he gets new legit papers each time.

ImmortalGuy definitely wants the control of his money to be outside of the US and EU. The regulations in those places make it impossible for immortalguy to retain control and still remain secret.

Offshore, ImmortalGuy controls the corporation, but he should create a new false identity every couple of decades. He transfers his shares in the offshore company to the new false identity.

Better still, create an offshore corporation with a number of offshore bank accounts with other banks that are periodically created, funded, and depeleted, with the funds moving from one account in one bank to others. The advantage here is that it eliminates the possibility that one bank gets wise to the truth.

The bank accounts should be in a variety of currencies and he should have investment accounts with brokerages in the local currency in nearly every major market in the world (US, Europe, Russia, Middle East, South America, Asia, etc.) He will live a long time, and it is likely that certain countries for a time may become inhospitable. Furthermore, he should have an encyclopedic knowledge of extradition treaties, so that given a starting country that wants to come after him, there is another country he can flee to in which he has accounts that won't extradite him.

To create wealth is easy if you are immortal. According to this chart, the average annual return on the S&P 500 with dividends reinvested is about 9%. Let's assume that inflation adjusted, the returns are 6% per year.

FV= PV(1+r)^y, where FV is the future value, PV is the amount he has at the start (the principal), r is the inflation adjusted rate per year(which is 0.06 for 6%), and y is the number of years.

I assume you aren't writing a math book, so learn the Rule of 72. This rule tells you that an amount of money will double in the number of years = 72 divided by the interest rate. So at 6%, 72/6=12, so the money will double every 12 years.

Here's where immortal guy gets his money - assuming he starts with $100,000, in 108 years he will have $54 million dollars. I would tell you how much he'd have in 216 years, but Windows Calculator can't compute numbers that large.

REincarnation guy definitely has it easier. there are clear deaths', identity changes, etc and nothing has to get forged, like with immortal guy.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:54 PM on August 9, 2007

Here's where immortal guy gets his money - assuming he starts with $100,000, in 108 years he will have $54 million dollars. I would tell you how much he'd have in 216 years, but Windows Calculator can't compute numbers that large.

That's the theory, but nations and corporations themselves are theoretically immortal too. This may not be as dependable as we might think; economic and political crises such as currency crashes and revolutions could wipe out all previously held assets.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:48 PM on August 9, 2007

That's the theory, but nations and corporations themselves are theoretically immortal too. This may not be as dependable as we might think; economic and political crises such as currency crashes and revolutions could wipe out all previously held assets.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:48 PM on August 9

This is why I suggested he have multiple accounts in multiple countries. He probably should also have gold.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:13 PM on August 9, 2007

Best answer: Hmm. Are we talking about someone now 500 years old? If so what he did over the last 500 years wasn't done with modern banking and extradition treaties in mind; he only could have started adapting to this as it came up. In the 1800s people didn't have off-shore accounts as such, they had financial interests in the colonies. It usually took six months to get across the world, and you couldn't send messages until radio. You could send an agent with a pile of cash to establish a business, and exchange annual letters.

(Unless our immortal has access to magic, or advanced science. That moves the goalposts wherever you like.)

To put it another way, to be realistic the character's story has to be worked out step by step, ie his decisions made in 1650 take no account of information unavailabe until after 1650. Historical doublethink, if you like. The only ways I see to break that problem with the direction of information flow are (1) the character is or has access to precognition (prophesy, science, psychohistory, whatever) good enough to predict modern banking and extradition practices in, say, 1925; or (2) the character, or beings like himself, have an active hand in causing modern life to be as it is.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:00 AM on August 10, 2007

Oops. For "pile of cash" substitute "pile of saleables". :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:01 AM on August 10, 2007

Weapons. Hard to make a loss selling weapons, no matter where and when you are.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:02 AM on August 10, 2007

After the 18XX's or so, when deep sea diving gear becomes more common, you could, i suppose, dump a box of diamonds/gold into the ocean at a specific point/s and retrieve it easily, since if you do it anywhere not near a shore, it should be nearly impossible for anyone else to find.
posted by Jacen at 8:35 AM on August 10, 2007

Accounts? Why would someone who has infinity bother - we're talking entire bank ownership across multiple countries here...
posted by jkaczor at 11:11 AM on August 10, 2007

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