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Bill Gates: Being very rich is 'the same hamburger'

In a wide-ranging speech and Q&A at the University of Washington, Microsoft founder Bill Gates explains that once you get a certain number of billions, it really doesn't matter any more.

Let's talk money and hamburgers.

Sometimes you can spend a lot of money on a hamburger, sometimes very little. For example, at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, you can pay $18 for a very nice hamburger with exquisite french fries.

It is spectacularly better than the ones at the Golden State Warriors games, where, please believe me, the burger and fries are almost the same price as the Four Seasons and of a similar quality to the team in 2002. (And 2003. And 2004.)

These--and several other--thoughts on the finance/hamburger axis have been occupying my mind because of a fascinating speech and Q&A session yesterday at the University of Washington featuring Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The way the Seattle Times records it, one enterprising listener asked Gates how she could become as blindingly rich as him.

Gates explained that money hadn't been his goal. He just loved what he was doing. Even better, he could involve his friends in this thing he loved. Soon, he had more money than he knew what to do with. Which he described as "a responsibility."

CC Jurvetson/Flickr

But here's the meat of it.

"I can understand about having millions of dollars. There's meaningful freedom that comes with that, but once you get much beyond that I have to tell you, it's the same hamburger. Dick's has not raised their prices enough," Gates said.

Not having eaten hamburgers in Seattle very often, I assumed he was, oddly, referring to Dick's Sporting Goods. But, no. Dick's Drive-In seems to be a fine place that actually won "The Best Cheap Eats in Western Washington."

It so happens that Dick Drive-In is very keen on offering its employees financial assistance with college funding. So it's a hamburger joint where you can begin your journey to becoming a billionaire.

But is there really any such thing as "the same hamburger?" Anyone who's been to McDonald's and then popped into In-N-Out knows that they're a little different. You can't get McDonald's "Animal Style," though there is some animal-style behavior at McDonald's occasionally.

So isn't the truth that when you begin to amass your billions, you have some interesting choices to make? They might be between one hamburger and another. But they're still different.

Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs mentions that when Gates came to Jobs' relatively modest house he wondered how on earth the whole Jobs family could fit into such a place. Perhaps this, to Gates, just wasn't a big enough Mac.

However, as Gates himself has proved, you can use your billions to attempt to do good. You just have to choose to do that. Most, though, will never have that choice. Most will never get to try the $5,000 FleurBurger created by suave pony-tailed chef Hubert Keller at his restaurant in the Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

I wonder if Gates has tried it.