• 2002-04-11
Being a millionaire ain't what it used to be. Inflation has seen to that. But owning a million kroons or litas, though not exactly the real thing, can still, understandably, send chills of self-satisfaction down the spines of wealthy Estonians and Lithuanians.

Latvians aren't so lucky with the lat, which has a higher value than the dollar.

There's something about that magic figure that holds so many of us under its spell.

According to the tax authorities, only two-thirds of the swelling number of Estonian millionaires live in the capital Tallinn. But in reality, of course, we can all live a rich and fulfilling life, no matter where we are.

I have this story.

An American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Estonian village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large herring. The American complimented the Estonian on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Estonian replied, "Only a little while."

The American then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish. The Estonian said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Estonian fisherman said, "I sleep late, play with my children, take a nap with my wife, Laine, and I stroll into the village each evening, where I chat and drink with my friends. I have a full and busy life."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Tallinn, then Helsinki, and eventually New York City where you could run your expanding enterprise."

The Estonian fisherman asked, "But how long will all this take?"

To which the American replied, "About 15 to 20 years."

"But what then?"

The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich; you would make millions."

"Millions? Then what?"

The American said, "Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a nap with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could chat and drink with your friends."