Millionaire’s treasure hunt arrives in Europe

At the weekend a US philanthropist hid envelopes stuffed with banknotes around a London park. Is the Hidden Cash craze just harmless fun, or a depressing example of our obsession with money?

What do Life of Pi, Lord of the Flies and Robinson Crusoe all have in common? The answer: they are all novels about castaways. But a few weeks ago, quick-thinking residents living in Chicago who guessed this Twitter riddle correctly were in with the chance of winning a cash prize. Hidden in a local restaurant called Castaways Bar and Grill, a secret millionaire had hidden envelopes stuffed with dollar bills.

For the past few weeks, the Hidden Cash treasure hunt has swept across several major US cities, and last weekend the craze landed in the UK. The premise is simple: white envelopes containing between £50-£100 are hidden in various secret locations around a city and cryptic clues are then posted to the Twitter account @HiddenCash inviting anyone to find the money. The rule is: finders, keepers.

Clues for Saturday’s scavenge in London included ‘a large space where green meets blue’ — a veiled reference to London underground lines, which eventually lead treasure hunters to a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Searchers rummaged through bins, waded through stinging nettles and poked around tree stumps in search of the cash. A total of £1,500 was distributed, and one newspaper described it as 'the day money did grow on trees’.

The secret millionaire behind the project was revealed last week to be Jason Buzi, a 43-year-old millionaire property investor from California who describes himself as a member of the richest one percent of Americans. He has now given away $20,000 (£12,000) and his idea has sparked copycat cash hunts all over the world.

Buzi claims his acts of kindness have no hidden agenda; he simply wants to put a smile on people’s faces. He was delighted when one 14-year-old girl in California who discovered $200 cried as she told her local TV station she was sending it to her sick grandmother in Mexico to pay for medicine.

Dash for cash

Buzi has been described as the ‘Robin Hood of Twitter’ and recipients of his generosity have expressed great delight at finding the envelopes. Many winners have given the money to charity or been inspired to use the money for their own good causes. Besides, the small sums of money show that this is not about greed, but about good will.

But others have criticised Buzi for not giving his money straight to charity, and argue that posting clues on Twitter excludes those who are most in need of the money. They also suggest that it is degrading and sinister for the rich to throw crumbs of their money away and watch people scramble for it, almost like a form of entertainment. There is more to life than money, but these treasure hunts suggest otherwise.

You Decide

  1. If you found an envelope full of cash, what would you do with it?
  2. Do you think the Hidden Cash hunts reveal a disturbing obsession with money, or is it just harmless fun?

Activities

  1. In groups, write a list of activities or challenges and ask each other what you would be prepared to do for £50. After everyone has answered, write a brief report summarising your findings.
  2. Come up with your own cartoon to illustrate this story. What visual metaphor will you use?

Some People Say...

“There is no wealth but life.’John Ruskin”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s so bad about a treasure hunt?
It may sound like an innocent day in the sun, but some people think that the Hidden Cash experiment is just another example of the ‘something for nothing’ culture, whereby people feel that they are entitled to money without having to work for it. While Hidden Cash has led to acts of kindness, some say it encourages us to think that money is the ultimate prize in life.
But doesn’t money make people happy?
Having enough money to live comfortably is a goal most of us aspire to achieve, by working hard at jobs we find fulfilling or important. But accumulating money for the sake of it, or being given money we haven’t earned doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. There are plenty of examples of millionaires who have grown disillusioned with their wealth.

Word Watch

@HiddenCash
The Twitter account containing the clues now has over half a million followers.
Peter Pan
The creator of the boy who never grew up, J.M. Barrie, commissioned Sir George Frampton to build the statue in 1902. It was erected in Kensington Gardens in London in 1912.
Jason Buzi
Buzi wants his treasure hunts to turn into a movement, and he has urged other wealthy individuals to hand out their money as well.
Copycat cash hunts
So far, Buzi has initiated hunts in Las Vegas, Houston, Chicago, New York, Mexico City and London. Paris and Madrid are on his list, too, and he plans to keep hiding envelopes for the next year. But all over the world, people with money to spare have joined in the craze, handing out envelopes of cash and designing clues to help people find them.
Degrading
In 2008, Buzi tried something similar. He hid $100 bills in tomato boxes around San Francisco but was forced to abandon the plan after some people were injured in the ensuing scuffles.

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