I am convinced very few people attempt to analyze and understand the full scope of billionaire-hood. We are becoming more inundated every day with the word “billion”. There is reported to be 770 billionaires in the United States. Power ball lottery totals have recently been exceeding one billion dollars. Nearly all of us can probably call up the names of at least ten billionaires from popular media sources. But for most, it is still just a word that we have never bothered to measure or comprehend in the context of individual humans being in sole possession of that much fiscal value.
The concept of an individual, or family, being multi-billionaires is outrageously ridiculous. If examined closely, it makes no sense, and it rarely provides any meaningful value to society. But, you say, they fund foundations and donate large sums to charities and worthwhile causes. They build and support museums! They own and provide massively popular entertainment venues. Thousands of people are employed who make good incomes building huge yachts, private airplanes, mansions, etc. Yeah, sure. Don’t be fool. Most of that is pitchfork insurance, and the rest is self-indulgence to fight off boredom.
I titled this article “Fourth Grade Math Lesson About Billionaires” because that is all the math skill required to look more closely at the beyond human scale scope of what being a multi-billionaire looks like when compared to what 99.9% of the American population lives function like. I promise the simple numbers I present will be shocking.
It is reported that there are approximately 22 million millionaires in the US. Believe it or not, when compared to the billionaire class, they are still part of the 99.9%, not the remaining .1%. Let’s hypothesize that these millionaires are just regular, quiet, low key folks who might live among people who are not at this financial level. Let’s further presume that they own a home in a nice neighborhood that has a market value of $600,000 in a typical American city suburb. Millionaires can generally afford a much more expensive home if they choose to, but they typically do not choose to do that. They would rather enjoy unlimited travel, maybe a vacation condo in the mountains, and perhaps a luxury motor home, instead of a much larger and more expensive house.
Let’s go on to presume that this $600,000 home has about 3,500 square feet of living space, three car garage, and three or four bedrooms with that many bathrooms. That is typically how a home of this nature is profiled. Not excessive, very comfortable and manageable, nicely furnished and appointed, top line appliances, maybe even a pool in the backyard depending on what part of the country it is in.
What if this profile were literally scaled up to represent what a multi-billionaire’s home would consist of. We already know they tend to have very large and extravagant homes, and often a collection of them. But what I will illustrate here using fourth grade level math will be based on a projection of the size of the home if it were fully scaled up in size to directly compare to the home described above.
I will select a multi-billionaire family who has amassed $10 billion in personal fortune. There are many at this level among the 770 billionaires in this country. This being our example, let’s understand that this family is approximately 10,000 times wealthier than the millionaire family. Are you getting the picture? Now, I will show the proportionate scale of the size and content of the billionaire family’s home based on etrapolated percentage increases.
If the millionaire’s house consists of 3,500 square feet, and the billionaire’s house is 10,000 times larger, what is the size? Since the answer in square footage is too large to comprehend, I will state it in acres. That would be 802 total acres. Bear in mind there are 640 acres in a square mile.
Having fun yet? Let’s keep building that billionaire home to scale.
In the millionaire home the ceilings are 10 feet high, and the doors are the standard 78 inches, or 6 feet, 6 inches. This will scale in the billionaire home to ceilings being 19 miles high and the doors being 12 miles high. The kitchen countertops in the millionaire home are 42 inches high. But in the billionaire home they would need to be 7 miles high to maintain this parity scale. I will not bother to calculate the toilet bowl, but can you imagine that?
Of course, this is totally ridiculous to comprehend. But so is a single family “owning” 10 billion dollars ($10,000,000,000.00). Contemplate for a moment using this fourth-grade math to scale up the home of Warren Buffet ($121,500,000,000.00), Bill Gates ($118,200,000,000.00), Jeff Bezos ($164,800,000,000.00), or Elon Musk ($231,000,000,000.00). I’ll stop with those four. But I will pick on them with another application of fourth grade math.
How long do you think it would take each of the billionaires I singled out in the above paragraph to give away their fortunes at the pace of $1,000,000.00 per day, to run out of money? Let’s add the assumption for this exercise that their current worth will be frozen at the current amount until it is gone. Because otherwise that amount of value makes a lot of additional money every day!
At a rate of $1,000,000 per day:
It will take 388 years for Warren Buffett to give away $121,500,000,000.
It will take 324 years for Bill Gates to give away $118,200,000,000.
It will take 452 years for Jeff Bezo to give away $164,800,000,000.
It will take 633 years for Elon Musk to give away $231,000,000,000.
I will challenge you to put your fourth-grade math skills to work to calculate the capability of these four billionaire’s fortunes to support any vital social cause you may be aware of using only a portion of their trove, and then ponder the positive impact of that for America. You might say, but wait, Bill and Melinda Gates tried (and failed) to eradicate polio in some other part of the world. Doesn’t that count? I would say, no, it really doesn’t, when we consider all the social needs we have in America that are going begging because we do not have the public infrastructure in place to improve them.
I do not believe anyone has actually “earned” billions of dollars. That is not physically possible. When someone is so fortunate to benefit from a money flywheel that flares off so much wealth so fast they cannot integrate it into their daily lives usefully, it would be wonderful if they recognized that they probably could give back meaningfully to the country that made it possible for that to happen, especially since they pay infinitesimal amounts of taxes, relatively speaking. But that has not happened and I cannot imagine it ever will.
See how much fun fourth-grade math could have been if you had been challenged to solve equations that are this interesting? It’s not too late! Think up some of your own!