Lots of media are noting that today Paul McCartney turns 64 – notable chiefly because McCartney wrote and sang, as a Beatle, the song “When I’m 64.” Of course, many of these reports also mention Paul’s recent separation  from his second wife, Heather Mills, and the fact that she’ll get a sizeable share of his fortune of $1.5 billion.
I don’t care about McCartney’s personal life, but I do love Beatles’ music. I’ve loved it since, as a five-year-old boy on February 9, 1964, I sat in my grandmother’s lap and watched the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show .
When I read of McCartney’s fortune, I’m struck by how puny it is compared to the amount of pleasure he’s contributed to humankind. Consider:
If each viewer of only the Beatles’ first two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show deposited $1 into an account in return for watching the Beatles on these telecasts, this account would have had in it, on February 16, 1964, $143.7 million. (The number of people who tuned in to the Beatles’ February 9, 1964, appearance was 73 million; the number who tuned in one week later for their second appearance was 70.7 million. These data are here .)
If this money were invested at the historical rate of return earned by U.S. stocks, it would have earned an annual return, on average, of eight percent. Today, this account would be worth about $3.5 billion.
Divided equally among John, Paul, George, and Ringo, Paul’s share today would be $875 million – more than half of his current net worth. And this from only a small payment made 42 years ago by each viewer of a mere two episodes of an American television show. Add the value of the pleasures McCartney helped to bring to us from the Beatles’ other appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – the value of the Beatles’ many live performances around the globe – the value of their many albums that continue (now mostly in CD form) to be played – the value of the Beatles’ movies such as “A Hard Day’s Night ” – the value that McCartney’s music post-Beatles brought to countless people.
And the man is worth only $1.5 billion! Because no one forced him to write and perform and record music, I’ll certainly not argue that McCartney is undercompensated. But I do insist that his net worth of $1.5 billion is paltry, puny, insignificant compared to his contributions to humankind.
Quite a bargain.