Do We Even Understand What A Billionaire Is?

In today's world, we marvel at billionaires, yet very few actually understand what it means. I know its a ridiculous number we cannot fathom, but the more I looked into it, the more it shocked me how much these people really are worth.  Among the general populace, making 'six-figures' or $100,000 is a benchmark of success and wealth. Millionaires are truly wealthy. But what is often misunderstood is how exponentially large adding another, let alone 3, or 6 a number becomes. 

The wealthiest aren't just billionaires either, they are hundred billionaires. Elon Musk is worth 265 billion. That is 265 with 9 zeroes after it. 265,000,000,000. It would take someone making six-figures 2,650,000 years to amass that wealth with no expenses. 2.65 MILLION years. To reach Jeff Bezos' wealth would only take them 1.77 million years. Even someone who makes a million dollars a year (which is wealthier than a millionaire which is just a net worth not annual salary delineation) would take 2,650 years to become as wealthy as Musk.

If you get a better understanding of what those number, their wealth, look like, you can begin to understand why so many are frustrated (enraged) that any human being has that net worth. Why unfettered capitalism building such vast amounts of wealth among so few doesn't make sense when so many make so little. That doesn't have to mean laws, or taxes, but corporate policy and fairness doctrines to limit profits for select individuals and better sharing of the wealth not just to employees, but to the bottom line of the company itself and the economy overall.

Let's start at that first level of success, $100,000 annual salary, and go up from there. But to make it fair, we'll move onto net worth since we don't even know what the annual salary of the Musks and Bezos make. Looking at the same six-figure number, we are basically at the average net worth of an American which is $120,000.

To be in the 1% club of wealthy, you are considered to have a net worth of $10 million.  That is 8 digits. 10,000,000. After taxes with no expenses, just based on income alone, it would take a six-figure salary 122 years to amass $10 million.  Less than 100 CEOs in the US make gross $1 million dollars a year and for them after taxes, again with zero expenses accounted for, it would take them 15 years to be worth $10 million.

$10 million a year salary. If you could avoid taxes and bank all of that, it would take you 100 years to amass $1 billion. But again Musk for example is a $265 billionaire, so multiply that by 265: 26,500 years. That's right, a $10,000,000 net income would take over 26 thousand years to become as rich as Musk.

It's probably still hard to fathom the exponential difference. A different approach can help. Visual and relative comparisons. For example:

  • 1 million seconds is 12 days
  • 1 billion seconds is 30 years
  • 1 trillion seconds is 30,000 years

Here you can get a better sense, especially since we can already relate to the difference between days and years. Going from 1 million to 1 billion takes us from just under 2 weeks to half of many lifetimes, a third of well-lived individuals. If we stuck to weeks, 1 billion seconds is almost 800 times longer in weeks than 1 million.

If we want to see a visual representation, here is an image that shows the difference.

photo cr. Wikipedia

The largest stack is 1 trillion. 100,000 is that first red square with no dimension. The cube is 1 million, the row is 10 million, the bottom left stack is 100 million. Musk is 265 times that billion stack. Want to see it in actual money? Here is a comparison using $100 bills.

photo cr.

Look, I don't begrudge people for making what they can make. But the fact this is even possible is hard to fathom, and to me shows an inherent flaw in our systems. I don't think the solution is laws or mandates, but there has to be, should be, some moral compass within our corporate systems that allocates or distributes value more equitably to employees and even the company itself. 


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