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How Much Exactly is a Billion Dollars?

By Petr Knava | Miscellaneous | July 14, 2020 |

By Petr Knava | Miscellaneous | July 14, 2020 |


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I don’t think there are many topics that incense me more than billionaires. Those parasitic exploiters and wealth extractors masquerading as ‘wealth creators’. Opportunistic bloated leaches living off the public teat when it suits them—gobbling up bailouts and subsidies and public-developed tech—and scorning the public when it comes to paying back even a little bit of their fair share. Nobody fu**ing needs a billion dollars. Nobody earns a billion dollars. They plunder it while hiding behind the sham that is philanthropy. Every billionaire is a policy failure. The world would be better off without them and their globe hugging vampire squiddery. They do tremendous amounts of harm, then the bare minimum of ‘good’ and ask for a pat on the back. And the worst part is that there are plenty of suckers around. Plenty of sand-sack-brained dweebs who’ve spent forty years gobbling up neoliberal individualist dogma and even longer having been force fed the asinine fallacy that is ‘the American dream’ who’ve actually ended up looking to spoiled, talentless leaches like Elon Musk and thinking that their wealth is a reflection of personal virtue or merit rather than a sad indictment of a desperately and increasingly fuc**ed up system designed to enrich the few while impoverishing the many doomed to suffer the worst of a planet left to burn by the rapacity of that hoarded wealth.

In 2017, according to an Oxfam report, the top eight billionaires owned as much wealth together as the poorest 50% of the human race. Between the year 2000 and 2015 the combined wealth of billionaires increased from $1 trillion to over $7 trillion. All the while the rest of us eat s**t.

Quite aside from the systemic, legislative coercion that enables it, one of the tricks that allows this system to sustain itself is, of course, that it’s virtually impossible for the human mind to comprehend what a ‘billion’ of anything even looks like. Hell, a million is nigh-on impossible to imagine. So a billion is just a complete abstraction. When translated into dollars, it’s an abstraction that exercises far too much power on national and international scales. We talk of billionaires as if they are a normal thing that should exist, instead of a toxic aberration and stain on our collective conscience. Because the concept of a billion is so difficult to conceptualise, here are a few aids, starting with YouTuber Tom Scott using an English road trip as a lens through which to view it all:

And then a few other striking comparisons in the Reddit comments below:

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And, finally, here is a properly mind-boggling interactive little graphic that helps you visualise not just a billion, but the hundred billion and change that is Jeff Bezos’ wealth. If it doesn’t wallop you over the head with an artisanal cast iron toaster and you don’t wake up singing the Internationale with a steely glint in your unblinking eye and one hand going for the pitchfork then, well, I can’t help you.


Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.


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