Bill Gates could buy everyone in the world five cheeseburgers from McDonald’s and have $26 billion leftover. With that $26 billion, Gates could acquire 10 NBA teams, 10 of the McDonald’s franchises he purchased those cheeseburgers from and three cruise ships, all while still remaining wealthier than pretty much everybody else on Earth. Nor does any of this account for the $7.5 billion he’s earned during the pandemic alone.
The site “Spend Bill Gates’ Money” is a straightforward, simplistically designed data visualization where you’re provided with a hypothetical $100 billion and 45 different objects to hypothetically purchase. They range in price from a $2 McDonald’s cheeseburger to a $2.1 billion NBA squad. (What? You thought I simply pulled those examples out of thin air?) The gulf in value and utility of these objects is vast — e.g., right next to the $300,000 single-family home is a $700,000 gold bar. And after the gold bar, one has the option to purchase Super Bowl ads, Apache helicopters and the Mona Lisa.
As I plugged various numbers into the “game,” however, I got frustrated. My frustration wasn’t just from feeling appalled by the concept of one person having that much cash (which I was), but mostly because I could barely get the numbers to make sense. Plugging in nine zeroes and still having more zeroes to play with seemed absurd. In fact, it was super easy to miscount the numbers as I entered them, accidentally adding an extra zero or misreading the quantities generated. Seventy-four billion cheeseburgers are nearly inconceivable.
Which, obviously, must be the point.
There are other sites like “Spend Bill Gates’ Money,” such as one that allows you to toggle between Jeff Bezos’ wealth and that of the federal government. Both are among the top results for related topics around money, according to Google Trends. Yet, most of the related searches for “spend Bill Gates’ money” and “spend Jeff Bezos’ money” pertain to other simple internet games like Snake.
That suggests to me is that most people view these sites similarly. For one set, they’re an interesting visualization of wealth and power. For another, they’re an indictment of the abject hoarding of wealth and the impossibility of even grasping it conceptually. Somewhere in-between, though, there’s probably a group of folks who merely view them as a means of entertaining oneself and passing the time.
But perhaps this says everything that needs to be said about economic inequality: The only way to even begin to understand such wealth — and how much more it is than your own — is to realize how ridiculous it is.