Couldn’t be stupider … that’s why it’s so smart

One Friday not long ago, it occurred to James Altucher that he ought to buy Greenland. To keep it safe. Because “the most northern country on the planet could be the most important for our survival.

James didn’t have the cash on hand, so he decided to crowdsource the purchase. He went to the bank of the people: Kickstarter. “They rejected me within seconds,” he said. So he put it up on GoFundMe. And money started trickling in.

James had made a pretty persuasive pitch. Just why does Greenland matter so much? For one, its extraordinary concentration of uranium and rare-earth minerals. Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are found in just about every tech gadget we use daily — from our phones and computers to our cars and our power grids — and they’ll be a key part of the global green-tech surge. “Kvanefjeld, in southern Greenland, is the second-largest deposit of rare earth minerals.” China already has around two-thirds of the world’s REE production; preventing China from cornering the global REE supply (and going after that uranium) will be in everyone’s interests.

Plus, it’s lovely up there. It’ll be less lovely once it’s carved up in a global mining frenzy. So let’s put in some environmental guardrails, James said. And make sure proceeds from resource extraction flow to the indigenous Inuit.

James was not stopped by the inconvenient fact that someone already owns Greenland. That would be Denmark. But the way he sees it, he’d be doing the Danes a favour by taking it off their hands. They pay a huge annual maintenance fee to subsidize Greenland – around $700 million. Surely they’d appreciate having that expense off their books.

How much did he need to raise? He figured $21 billion would suffice. But even rustling up a fraction of that – say, a hundred million – could get the ball rolling. That might be “enough to engage other banks and funds to raise the money sufficient to buy the country at a price Denmark will not be able to refuse.”

For some reason, the GoFundMe folks deemed James’s project unserious, and shut him down. The venture was all over by the end of the weekend.

James Altucher is a man who just … tries stuff. Self-experiments. Personal “quests,” as he calls them, of varying degrees of complexity and duration. (Most recently, he has returned to competitive chess, after a 25-year-hiatus, aiming to achieve a higher ranking than he had back then, when he was a strong master. It’s really a test of whether experience and guile can beat youthful cognitive horsepower.)

Gotta admit, I love this kind of thing. It’s not just jackassery – there’s real purpose behind these follies.

Take the Greenland goof. Few people give much thought to this country. But they should. Because the smash-and-grab of resource extraction that’s unfolding there has all kinds of global geopolitical implications – not least the potential for WW III. That’s why NPR had James on. A silly story plugged people into a serious conversation. James is a gadfly, and this is what gadflies do. Can’t say I’m wild about his politics, but I do like this gentleman’s brain.

When I conceived this One Big Day project, nigh-on ten years ago now, I imagined each entry as a short, purpose-driven pilgrimage. At the end of it you’d have a tangible thing to show for your efforts — a new chair, a children’s story, a clean attic, a rebuilt engine, an evacuation plan. But I’ve come to believe there’s a lot of value in abstract provocations.

A Big Day is no less significant when everything happens in your own head.

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