Meet Mr. Moneybags

Wall Streeter takes home $3B last year, enough to cover budgets of six states.

April 18, 2008— -- Hedge fund manager John Paulson raked in an astonishing $3 billion last year, a payday that topped all others even in the rarified canyons of Wall Street.

That's more than $1.4 million an hour, assuming a 40-hour workweek with no vacations -- though we expect he worked a lot more than that.

Meanwhile, the average American worker made just $17.86 an hour in March, according to the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It would take 80,756 average Americans to make the same amount of money as Paulson did.

Paulson, who profited with winning bets on securities tied to the mortgage mess, is a poster boy in a world where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. The salaries of hedge fund managers like Paulson show just how lopsided the pay scales can be for some at the top.

"They live on a whole different plane, almost a whole different economy," Diane C. Swonk, chief economist of Mesirow Financial, said of titans like Paulson. "There's sort of the ultra, ultra rich, then the rest of economy."

The typical American family made just $48,201 in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that median figure includes many householders where there are two adults holding down jobs.

Compare that with the 100 top hedge fund traders around the world, who brought in a combined $30.4 billion, according to trade publication Trader Monthly.

Paulson, founder of Paulson & Co., was king of the hill last year, but there were certainly others who joined him at the top of the income stratosphere.

Phil Falcone, of Harbinger Capital Partners, was estimated to have earned $1.5 billion to $2 billion in 2007, according to Trader Monthly. So did Jim Simons of Renaissance Technologies, Steve Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors and Ken Griffin of Citadel Investment Group.

Swonk called it the "biggest inequality since the Great Depression."

"Not only are the rich getting richer, there are more of them, and those who are rich are getting incredibly rich, sort of a winner-takes-all," she said.

So given this wealth disparity, we decided to look at this incredible wealth to see what it could buy. Remember, the $3 billion that Paulson made was just in one year. We assume that even if he spent every last penny, he has some cash stashed away from prior years to pay for living expenses and to save for retirement.

First, why not give some cash to charity?

A spokesman for Paulson told ABC News that he keeps his charitable donations private. Paulson did, however, give $15 million, according to Business Week, to the Center for Responsible Lending, a group that is helping to provide legal aid to homeowners facing mortgage foreclosure.

That's a little more than two hours work for the hedge-fund magnate.

Okay, but what about the necessities?

How about 16.3 billion eggs for one really, really big omelet? Or maybe 1.1 billion pounds of chocolate chip cookies? And if you are looking to wash down all that food, all that money could buy a staggering 793 million gallons of whole milk, according to price data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That's enough moo juice to fill 1,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

And that's just one person's money.

Let's say the top five hedge fund traders teamed up. They earned a combined $10 billion last year. That's enough money to cover all of the state budgets -- excluding federal dollars -- of Alabama, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Vermont, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But let's face it, if you had that much money you might decide to have a little fun.

How about a nice, new Mercedes-Benz S class car that costs about $90,000? With $3 billion, you could buy one for yourself and for 33,000 of your closest friends and still have some cash left over.

Or you could buy 200,000 new models of the more modest Ford Focus. That would buy a car for every man, woman and child living in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Of course there are plenty of other things to spend money on. But you probably get the point by now, so we'll leave you with this final one: the high-priced call girl that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer allegedly hired cost him $4,300 & and, of course, his job.

If you took all $3 billion and spent it on hookers charging the same price … well let's just say you would never have to spend another night alone … for the next 1,910 years.

But remember what The Beatles said: Money "Can't Buy Me Love."