Like every American (I assume) I've occasionally wondered what I would do if I had enormous wealth. And my thoughts always run to remaking the world, or at least our country, to be more in line with my own values. In other words, if I were a billionaire I'd be like Charles and David Koch. According to Forbes, they each have $25 billion, and although I'm sure they have really nice houses and who knows what else, they seem mostly concerned with turning this country into the kind of place they'd like it to be. Now you and I might find their vision of America horrifying, but in their own way their activities are quite civic-minded. Their brother Bill, however, has other things to do with his money:
KEBLER PASS —There's a new town in Colorado. It has about 50 buildings, including a saloon, a church, a jail, a firehouse, a livery and a train station. Soon, it will have a mansion on a hill so the town's founder can look down on his creation.
But don't expect to move here — or even to visit.
This town is billionaire Bill Koch's fascination with the Old West rendered in bricks and mortar. It sits on a 420-acre meadow on his Bear Ranch below the Raggeds Wilderness Area in Gunnison County. It's an unpopulated, faux Western town that might boggle the mind of anyone who ever had a playhouse. Its full-size buildings come with polished brass and carved-mahogany details and are fronted with board sidewalks and underpinned by a water-treatment system. A locked gate with guards screens who comes and goes.
Koch's project manager has told county officials that the enclave in the middle of the 6,400-acre Bear Ranch won't ever be open to the public. It is simply for Koch's amusement and for that of his family and friends — and historians. It is the ultimate repository for his huge collection of Western memorabilia.
"It's the kind of stuff I guess you would expect a billionaire to construct. It's like something out of a 'Gunsmoke' movie set," said Ramon Reed, chairman of the Gunnison County Planning Commission.
The commission recently OK'd a 22,000-square-foot residence for Koch above the town that already has two buildings in excess of 11,000 square feet.
As someone pointed out on Twitter, it sounds more "Westworld" than "Gunsmoke," which would be about a hundred times more awesome (until the Yul Brynner robot starts killing everyone, of course). But what is he going to do—just stroll around the empty streets clinking his spurs and imagine he's Wyatt Earp? I guess so.
And after Bill Koch is gone, there'll be this strange monument to his eccentricity there, until it crumbles to dust. Which made me think of this recent article about Steve Jobs in Wired. Jobs was a visionary and a genius who had an enormous impact on the world. He was also, however, a weapons-grade asshole who berated his employees, mistreated his children, and went about his days believing that because he was so important, rules didn't apply to him. He famously had no license plates on his car, because he was Steve Jobs so screw you. The contrast with Bill Gates is remarkable: Jobs built his gigantic company creating products that everyone admires and even loves, while Gates built his giant company creating products that people tolerate but basically have no choice but to use. Yet Gates is the one who is spending his middle age using his vast fortune to create a better world, trying to solve problems of poverty and health care.
Bill Koch can do whatever he wants with his money, of course, and in the end our country will be a better place if he builds a hundred western ghost towns than if his brothers successfully free their class from the burdens of taxation and environmental regulation. But while we're on the topic, "Westworld" came out 39 years ago. Isn't it about time we had a place like it? Or maybe we already do, but only the billionaires know about it.