So the next next President of the USA has just got in his position, and by electoral estimates and the power of the status quo maintenance, he knows that he will win his re-election, so he is sure that he will be in this position for the next 8 years.

But our President has a problem: he doesn't want to be a career politician, and so he wants to retire after his term. He has dreams he wants to pursue, and such dreams are costly. On the other hand, our President wants to make a lot of money using his presidential salary, investing in whatever profitable activity he can put his money to be use of, so whatever he wants to do, he must do it in this gap of 8 years. And on top of that, our President is someone who wants to be as righteous as possible, as he cares about his reputation and he cannot allow himself to do anything bad.

It's obvious that being a politician is to be inside a system that allows and sometimes even coerces the representatives of the people in doing bad acts, and that's why our President wants to do only the 2 presidential terms and then get out of it. To finish it, let's a put an "easy" mark here: 1 billion of dollars (or more if possible, maybe 10 billion, who knows).

Of course, we have some restrictions to limit our financial options, and these are the rules:

1. The President cannot receive money from illegal actions or dubious representatives. Our President is a man who cares about doing the right thing, and so he doesn't want to do anything that can harm his image or give potential ammunition to the opposition. Because of that, no money or service that came as a result of bribery, lobby or any kind of corruption will be accepted or expected. If our President receives any anonymous donation, he will investigate and, if he found that it came from an illegal or bad source, he will return the money and report it to the responsible authorities.

2. The President cannot be director, chief, manager or hold any corporate title, and he also cannot found or manage a company. It's obvious that, if our President has any high position in a company, any political action that could change the economical environment would be criticized as a "one-sided" or "biased" action that has the growth of his own capital as a goal. In fact, it's even illegal in some countries. A warning here: can our President be an anonymous investor in a company? I sincerely don't know. Is it illegal, or is it bad for his reputation? I guess that is the rule that could be the most discussed, because it's the rule that stands most in the "gray area".

3. The President cannot engage in illegal activities. The President wants money, but not a criminal record. Slave trade, trading weapons or uranium in the black market, selling federal secrets to other governments, ... that's all activities that our President will not do.

4. The President cannot engage in activities that are not compatible with his presidential activities or that could go beyond his available time. The President is, you guessed it, the President, and so he must work, because he has political things to do and a country to worry about. Because of that, his economical activities must be possible to be executed in his spare time. He cannot spend the entire day checking the ups and downs of his assets in the stock exchange.

P.S.: After writing all of these laws, I guess that the second one is the hardest to have an absolute position about it. The President could have a lot of stocks, which are anonymously in his hand. If such a thing was discovered, how bad would that be to his reputation?

On the other hand, let's say that the President has invested in Bitcoins. He could openly tell that to the public, and even create laws to make it more accessible to the people to invest in it. Such action would be criticized by some, but would it be bad for his image? Or maybe not that bad, because it doesn't affect him directly, although he has a relation with it as an investor. Any clue or discussion about that would be very welcomed.

In short: how could a President become a billionaire without doing anything illegal, and using only his salary?

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    $\begingroup$ Powerball this week is at $700m. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ He could endorse a ton of stuff (get hamios, the president's favorite ham based cereal.) $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Jan 7, 2016 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ How on earth would such a person ever get elected?!? $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2016 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ It's a trivial point in terms of the Mental exercise, but I feel it's worth mentioning that all Presidents of the USA get a (currently) $203,700 pension. Given that they're getting that yearly for the rest of their life, it means that the amount of money they'd been to drum up during the presidency is an awful lot less in order to "Follow their dreams" regardless of the expense. $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2016 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ After s/he leaves office, charge large speaking fees. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Mar 15, 2017 at 18:33

7 Answers 7


Short of immense luck, the President will not be able to legally make a billion dollars off of his salary and position alone. He should write a book instead.

The President of the United States makes a yearly salary of 400,000. Over an eight year term that will give him $3.2 million to work with in total, but he’s only going to have a fraction of it up front when he gets started.

Unfortunately for this President’s wealth aspirations, he is unwilling to break the law. As a result, he will be limited to the same avenues of wealth acquisition as the general public. Between this and his extremely busy schedule, it’s almost impossible for him to turn a yearly salary of $400,000 into a billion dollars over eight years. It might be tempting to think that the president’s position would afford him a greater opportunity to invest, but his chief advantage is insider knowledge or relationships that would be dubious, if not downright illegal, to leverage. The only chance he could possibly have would be gambling, most likely via lotteries.

If, instead, the President merely wants to retire comfortably after his term, he’s better off writing a book. Popular politicians can easily make millions of dollars in book sales, and its an activity that feeds specifically off of his position and unique experience. A successful book can also continue to reap profits for many years.

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    $\begingroup$ Aside from a grossly incorrect yearly salary, this is pretty much what I was going to write. Book after book, and potentially movie deal. $\endgroup$
    – IchabodE
    Jan 8, 2016 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ I had blinders on and discarded this excellently realistic possibility due to the condition that he earn the money during his term. >.< $\endgroup$
    – Wingman4l7
    Jan 15, 2016 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ The President's must reimburse US Government for many expenses (food for non-state dinners, vacation and campaign travel on Air Force One, etc) which often is MORE that the $400k salary. Vacations in particular are expensive - the President must reimburse enormous security costs. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 15, 2017 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @IchabodE : "grossly incorrect"? What is your source? This source says $199,700 per year, plus perks that look likely smaller. This source and this source say $400,000 per year. This source has a chart showing $500k+ per year continuing to be provided to former Presidents even after they've left office. $\endgroup$
    – TOOGAM
    Jan 27, 2018 at 16:57

He can engage in insider trading.

Now, you may say, insider trading is illegal. But actually this is not entirely true for politicians. For instance, it was not illegal for members of Congress to sell or hedge their portfolios before they passed TARP in 2008.

Furthermore, while you say the POTUS has to spend most of his time doing his job and doesn't have time to actively play the market, it doesn't really require much time to transact a trade here and there. There are plenty of mobile apps out there for various brokerages which will even allow you to initiate a buy or sell order from anywhere you have cell coverage. You can spend less than 5 minutes a day doing it, say during a restroom break before you make a speech.

Now, how will this work? As President of the United States, you have a great deal of inside information not only on what laws are likely to make it to you, and input on what laws you want to reach your desk, but veto power over laws, and even executive orders which bypass the need for legislation. Many of your acts as President can radically change the value of various publicly traded companies. Making a billion dollars is quite doable using highly leveraged instruments such as options and futures - things which normally would have very high risk if not for your inside knowledge of how your policies and legislation would proceed.

And you don't even need to compromise your ethics: for instance, you could buy cheap out of the money puts in a certain large oil company having significant interests in a remote Alaskan oil field (betting the price will fall) and then while nobody is expecting it, sign an executive order banning drilling in this region due to the environment impact it will have on native wildlife. Conservation organizations will praise you. Or you can position your money so you will make a killing when you announce your new health care initiative.

And you don't even have to limit yourself to local concerns. The actions of the President of the United States can even affect the value of the dollar. Invest heavily betting the USD will fall, and then announce policies to be taken to devalue the dollar to increase the competitiveness of American made goods abroad. (Unions love you) Or vice versa if you feel imported goods should be cheaper and benefit from a stronger dollar (consumers love you). Your views are not important to achieving your goal, whatever you believe in and whatever policies flow from that can facilitate your making a great amount of money. It doesn't really even matter if your goals are ultimately unsuccessful, because you can cash out after your initial announcement moves markets in the desired direction.

While you can make your positions strategic to benefit a large part of the population which will in turn re-elect you, you probably won't even actually need to be re-elected to a second turn. The combination of geometric returns on your initial investment combined with the power of what you say to move markets should take much less than 8 years. For a large part, your salary is not even a big part of this. As an illustration of leverage, in under two years, Hillary Rodham Clinton turns \$1000 into nearly \$100,000 in cattle futures. You are going for these kinds of moves, but overnight. The fact that it takes you a year take make $400k will pale in comparison.

  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that be illegal or at least unethical? I mean, the President is using his influence and inside knowledge to do such investments. People could complain that he is changing the legislation for his own benefit. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2016 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @deldonut1 Well. Now I have to wonder if somebody read this answer and is using to their benefit. Seriously. Buy puts on drug companies and then proclaim that the U.S. is going to start negotiating for lower drug prices. At least one of those has now happened by an elected president. Never release your financial statements and we are all left to wonder what, if any gains you are making. If anybody suggests it's illegal or unethical, make an assuaging statement while simultaneously dismissing the claim and hope it is never tested. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jan 11, 2017 at 20:17

There's no reason for a President to become a billionaire while in office because being an ex-President is itself immensely valuable. Just look at the Clintons. They were, by some standards, pretty poor when Bill Clinton got elected. Now they are worth hundreds of millions, if not billions. Just do what Bill and Hillary did.

This is because once he leaves office, he becomes very desirable to do business with. Once out of office he'll get paid $50,000 or more per speaking engagement - all over the world. He'll be invited onto the board of trustees of major world-wide corporations, and receive equity in them. This is because having an ex-President on a board makes the company more attractive to investors. He'll have as many book offers as he wants, and will get millions in advanced payments. He will have insider access to the best investment opportunities. Also, as an ex-President he'll have a lot of influence with the right people, and will be paid handsomely to lobby for industry.

So basically, why bother trying to get rich while President, when it will be that much easier to do - and far less controversial - after he leaves office?

  • $\begingroup$ So, the best bet for the OP's character is to search for a decent contender at the next election and retire four years earlier? $\endgroup$
    – svavil
    Jan 9, 2016 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ There's nothing that requires a President to run for re-election after his term is up. And there's always plenty of people willing to step in. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2016 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ However, I would think that being a two-term president is more valuable than being a one-term president. Think about it like having a bachelor's degree and having a master's degree. If the president manages to get re-elected, and manages to serve out his term without too much controversy, and in good reputation, then he'd be much more valuable than a president who only serves one term. $\endgroup$
    – WarPorcus
    Mar 15, 2017 at 14:01

Run a meet-and-greet lottery.

The president's time is extremely valuable, but as a human being and citizen of a first-world country, and one with a high-stress job, it's generally accepted that the POTUS should get vacation time. How they use this time off is at their own discretion.

The president could hold the lottery, say, once a month, with each meeting lasting several hours -- perhaps styled like Seinfeld's Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Eight year's worth would be 24 meetings -- \$42 million apiece would net a billion dollars. A large sum, but the average Powerball jackpot is ~\$80 million, so not inconceivable. Many people would be willing to pay a large sum for a chance to have an audience with the president, especially if it was publicly aired -- so to pay only a few dollars for a chance to meet them would be a bargain.

Transparency would be key. The POTUS would ideally release an accounting of the time spent in proportion to work duties, to avoid accusations that they were taking advantage of a public office or not doing enough work. The same goes for funds spent on Secret Service security during the meetings. For PR's sake, a portion of the proceeds would likely have to be donated to suitable charities.

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that be considered corruption ? I mean you actually pay the president to get a chance to influence him. Also I had quite a hard time to get what POTUS stand for. $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Jan 8, 2016 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ How exactly do you get from 8 years of monthly meetings to 24 meetings in total? Aren't there 96 months in 8 years? $\endgroup$
    – Nzall
    Jul 10, 2016 at 21:15

Did I miss something in the question that said that doing what real presidents do doesn't count? Assuming I didn't, the president just has to wait until he leaves office and then make a fortune on the speaking circuit. It's certainly legal. It does attract a little criticism, but so would literally anything an ex-president does in public. It's true that he can't immediately retire, but at the rate an ex-president can command he should be able to make his pile in mere months. The only investment he need put into this while he is still in office is to keep a detailed diary from which he can later extract nuggets of folksy wisdom. This could also be useful for writing his autobiography, as suggested by Avernium above, and for ensuring his anecdotes are actually true, as the question specifies that he does not want to find himself under fire from critics.

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    $\begingroup$ The issue would be when Enron pays the president US 250.000 for a conference after the president signs a bailout for Enron. Or when Mr X, who has lots of shares of Enron, pays the president US 250.000 after Enron has been bailed out. Since people cannot read the president mind, nobody would be sure if the bailout decision was impartial or not. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Jan 8, 2016 at 11:21

He can mine, trade, and own/co-found a fast growing digital currency.

He's the president, so it's not like he can't get access to some very powerful machines or an array of them. It's not illegal to trade digital currencies, mine them, or sell them. Their characterisation is a bit grey, and really only Bitcoin has a bit of a nebulous negative reputation from The Silk Road, which would address your concerns with that.

There's nothing stopping him from being the sole owner of it or collaborating with a creator, either. The creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi, was rumoured to have over a million bitcoin which isn't too unrealistic. Its value rose to over 1,500 dollars which is over a billion dollars in total.

Owning so many and having an arrangement with the creator of the algorithm, blockchain / ledger wouldn't really be unrealistic. Its value could easily go over 2,000 or more as long as people give it that value. This isn't the same as owning a company, and it's not considered gambling if he managed to come across it with minimal resources. It's not even a company investment.

Since a lot of it is so virtual and has very little to do outside any sort of negotiations for ownership, he can maintain anonymity like Satoshi did. It wouldn't be costly to his time or interfere with his role as President. A lot of digital currencies are indeed anonymous so there's no reason he would have to disclose it. And even if he did, people would only criticise him because he has a position of power. However, it would be no different from the people who complained about Satoshi (which was quite the minority) simply because he had money.

He could even be the sole founder if he learned computer programming to a good degree.

  • $\begingroup$ I do not like this answer... Mining and trading is just speculation and can go right or wrong, it is just gambling, owning a co-found requires a very specific set of knowledge (and no, "learning computer programming" is not good enough). You could as well have said "win the lotto" for the first part, and "paint a masterpiece" for the second one... $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ Every money-making opportunity can go wrong. And no, obviously it isn't good enough, but if you cannot imagine a president who already has the skill or develop it over years or manage a team of developers with the know-how, then I can amend my answer to give the exact specifics of each of my points. However, as OP said "next-next" and not specifically Barack Obama, I think you can exercise a bit of imagination for the sake of worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2016 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ "Managing a team of developers" would make him a part of an business association/enterprise, which most probably is just plain illegal for a POTUS (for good measure). Also I am pretty sure it has an exclusivity clause somewhere in his/her contract. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ You don't have to register a company. Satoshi doesn't run a company. He just owns bitcoin which have a value that people gave it. So I disagree with your point. I also disagree with your "You might as well say Y because X is exactly the same as Y" assertions, as it is gambling in the sense that any other opportunity is gambling. It's gambling to open a business. The market may change. There are nuances here that you're ignoring. However, digital currencies have known success rates and this hypothetical falls within the constraints given by OP, hence my answer. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2016 at 23:41

How does a person become a billionaire? Either by inheritance, or by founding or investing in a corporation that achieves market capitalization in excess of $1B times his equity stake.

Speaking fees, investing his salary on mutual funds, writing books, etc. will not work. At 100,000 USD per speech, you would have to give 10,000 speeches that would take 192 years at a rate of one speech per week. At $2.5M per book, you would have to write 400 books. Would the 400th book by "the most interesting man in the history of mankind who also was the president of the USA" really sell?

His sole chance is to invest in start-up companies and then use all the powers of his office to make sure that those companies are hugely successful. Whether this is legal and ethical under your requirements 2 and 3 is highly questionable. Before 2017, I would have said this is clearly illegal but ethics rules regarding presidential business interests seem more murky under the current administration, so you may have a way out. Perhaps a family member can invest on his behalf. Think of it this way, if it was easy, every president would have done this. Who doesn't want to be a billionaire?

So, what start-ups is he going to invest in? Things that almost every other investor sees as non-viable but a president could potentially make viable.

  • Human germline genetic manipulation, the designer baby company.
  • Reckless gene therapy for every illness. The 21st century cures company.
  • The cognitive enhancement company. Free, legal stimulants for everyone (competition from mainstream big pharma is an issue).
  • The Mars colonization company.
  • The green energy company
  • The bog peat burning company
  • The armed drones for civilian home defense and big game hunting company (competition from current defense contractors would be an issue but you could pass a law to the effect the same corporation cannot produce both military and civilian drones)
  • The US affiliate of the one and only North Korean company and bank allowed to do business in the US
  • The one and only US company allowed to export dual-use technology to Russia

Basically anything that he can strong-arm the NIH, State department, EPA, Department of Energy, NASA, etc to make unexpectedly profitable.


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