tl;dr?! Billionaires are a natural outcome of a system built to grow billionaires. Poverty is a natural outcome of a system built to grow billionaires. Eat Tax the rich. Or! How about this? Value labor. Increase wages regardless. I’ll make the case.

Here we go!

January 22, 2020 – A check of the Googles today indicates that there are 607 billionaires in the US. Some billionaires were the product of a lucky sperm and/or affluent egg merger. This group includes the Waltons, the Kochs, Trump. Other billionaires had a scratchier start — Bezos’, Bloomberg, Steyer. Regardless, they are billionaires with lagoons of money at their disposal.

Money like water.

Money is for efficient exchange of goods and services.

And I love me metaphor.

Too little water? Brown. Limited growth. Plants die. Soil blows away in the wind.

Too much water? Flooding. Water logged. Or think of the ocean. Travel at sea is comfortable if you are in a REALLY BIG BOAT! And how many of us can afford a really big boat? I mean really big? All those billionaires be out in their own big boats floating in their own big oceans. Big chunks float.

But water flowing greens things up in a field, creates fresh water lakes to float lots of little boats, is the current in a river, avoids the stagnation of a swamp. The stagnation of the minimum wage.

And so I submit that money freely flowing greens up the environment for all. And trickle-down economics is not working. The collective WE suffers from not enough to go around for the benefit of the few. The billionaires. And let us be clear. Billionaires are people, but at some point as they floated up, they did not pull enough others up along with them. They did not launch lots of little boats. They built their own branded behemoth boats and be floating out all alone on their own big oceans.

They did not pull enough others up? How can you be so ungracious and make that statement Viva? I offer as my evidence: they have more than a billion dollars.

A photo to break up the text. Minnehaha Falls in Minnesota. Spring running water.

Not just B&M.

I believe that one of the problems with the perception that a billion dollars is a worthy goal is that it doesn’t SOUND much different than a million dollars. Swap an ‘m’ for a ‘b’ and both millionaires and billionaires are rich.

Perhaps it is a relic from my youth or it is just the nature of time and inflation, but the end goal of being a multi-millionaire does not seem to be removed from society at large. To start and run a small business can take several million dollars. When Bernard Sanders finally released his tax forms, we were not surprised that he has a net worth over a million dollars — he is in his 70s and we EXPECT that he would be fiscally responsible enough to save for retirement. His was not an obscene amount of money. His ho-humming and posturing were a bigger problem than his million dollars plus. Grow up Bernie. Millions or a few are a worthy goal.

But as a culture, it seems we’re conditioned to hear ‘million’ and ‘billion’ and put the numbers in the same bucket. Rich. Of course millionaires become billionaires! But they are worlds apart and there are gradations on the way. For example, Jeff Bezos has two more zeroes in his net worth than the Don Don has in his. Two orders of magnitude.

Orders of Magnitude illustrated.

Orders of magnitude. Let’s illustrate orders of magnitude into relatable dimensions and do math! We’ll use ye olde English measures of length for this discussion.

Conversion Factors

  • 1 foot = 12 inches
  • 1 yard = 3 feet
  • 5,280 feet = 1 mile

Orders of Magnitude represented as distances.

To illustrate orders of magnitude, I’m going to use familiar distance measure as a stand in for dollars. Assume one dollar buys one inch. Here is what money looks like represented as a distance at each increasing order of magnitude:

  • $1. One dollar is one inch which looks like large print taking up two lines of half-inch blue-lined paper. You sign your name with flourish. Or maybe it looks like a straight pin.
  • $10. Ten dollars looks like 10” which is almost a foot. Ten inches looks like shoe. A bigger shoe, but a shoe.
  • $100. One hundred inches is 8.33 ft. A standard ceiling height is 8 feet. One hundred dollars in height.
  • $1,000. One thousand inches is 83.33 ft. which is 27.778 yds which if you’re a football team moving the ball from the 20 yard line is just 2.222 yards short of a first down.
  • $10,000. Ten thousand inches is 833.3 ft which is 277.78 yds which is 2.7778 football fields — Lambeau, Aloha Stadium, and 22.22 yds short of a touchdown at Soldier Field.
  • $100,000. One hundred thousand inches is 9.26 long side Manhattan city blocks or 1.578 miles.
  • $1,000,000. One million inches is 15.78 miles which will take 15 minutes to drive at a speed of 63.12 MPH. I don’t have a great visual for ~ 16 miles. Oh well.

——- Reminder: we are working in units of dollars to INCHES, not dollars to miles or dollars to donuts. ——-

  • $10,000,000. Ten million inches is 157.83 miles which is a trip from Milwaukee to Chicago and 0.716 of the way back. Stop in Racine for dinner, whydoncha?
  • $100,000,000. One hundred million inches is 1578.3 miles which is 4 miles short of a complete round trip from Milwaukee to Chicago to Washington DC and back. We are really moving now!
  • $1,000,000,000. One billion inches is 15,783 miles which gets us international travel TO Hong Kong from Washington DC and 93% of the way back. And a billion dollars? If you have a billion dollars and lack imagination on what to do, here are my suggestions.
  • $10,000,000,000. Ten billion inches is 157,830 miles which is 6.338 trips around the earth at the equator.
  • $100,000,000,000. One hundred billion inches is 1,578,300 miles which is out-of-this-world! It is 3 round trips from earth to moon and back with 144,900 miles still left over. Or, <does more math> almost 6 more trips around the earth (9,180,864,000 inches)!

I’ll not continue with $1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion dollars). It is stratospheric. (See also the Viva post Scientific Notation.)

So, start small. Sign your name with an inch of flourish!


These defined distances were used for our Order of Magnitude imagery above, included here for completeness. For extra credit, you can do the math too!

From the Googles:

  • 100 yards = 1 football field
  • The standard block size in Manhattan, NYNY is 264 ft by 900 ft. We’ll use the long side of the block – 900 ft.
  • The distance from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL is 92 mi.
  • The distance from Chicago, IL to Washington DC is 699 mi.
  • The distance from Washington DC to San Francisco, CA is 2,813 miles.
  • The distance from Washington DC to Hong Kong is 8,140 miles.
  • The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles.
  • The average distance from the earth to the moon is 238,900 miles.
  • The average distance from the earth to the sun is 93,000,000 miles.

The Dirac Delta Function

As a percentage of the US population, 607 billionaires/330,000,000 non-billionaires = 0.00000184 or 0.000184% or, approximately 0%. Zero.

Billionaires. A lot of economic power vested in a very small handful of citizens.

And here I’ll digress into a little more math. Billionaires are the Dirac Delta of capitalism. The Dirac Delta function is zero except AT zero when it has a value of infinity. But! At zero with a zero width and an infinite height, the area under the curve is one (1)! Or zero times infinity is equal to one!

Aside: the Dirac Delta is a function. You can still trust your calculator. In regular math zero times any number is still zero. The Dirac Delta is a theoretical construct and trust me, it solves so many engineering problems.

But back to my point. Billionaires are basically 0% of the population but because their wealth is infinite, they have a disproportionate value of one. As evidence, I offer Citizens United. I offer Michael Bloomberg who threw his hat in the run for President and has come up in the polls (he was at 10% today) by just applying some money. I offer the Don Don Grifter-in-Chief who conned his way to POTUS using the chimera of he’s a billionaire too.

As we continue to struggle a more perfect union on the obeisance to capitalism at all costs, veneration of titans of industry, worship of the Cheeto of Teflon — money as an ultimate goal, or the ultimate goal, gives disproportionate power and voice to a very small, very wealthy minority.

Taxes? More for the many!

Gonna pick on Jeff Bezos, Amazon predator proprietor. In 2018, the most recent documented tax year, Amazon paid a whopping $0 dollars in Federal taxes on $11,000,000,000 in profits. $11 Billion. If we plot a graph with taxes on the x-axis and profits on the y-axis, Amazon would look like the Dirac Delta function!

Instead of federal taxes, consider state and local sales tax. If Jeff Bezos buys a single pair of really fine $2500 pants every day for a year he will spend $912,500 – almost $1,000,000 – on a pile of pants. If we apply a Seattle sales tax rate of. 10.1%, Jeff will contribute $92,162.50 from pants tax to the Seattle public coffers which is approximately $92,162.50 more than Amazon contributed to the Fed.

On the other hand, if the 566,000 employees of Amazon are paid such that they can afford one pair of $60 khakis a year, they will have spent $33,960,000 on khakis or $33,047,500 more dollars on pants than Jeff Bezos. And! If they paid HALF the Seattle tax rate of 5.05%, they would contribute $1,701,396 to the public coffers. Whoa!

And they’d all have new pants!

If you extend the purchasing power of living wages into housing, food, childcare, transportation — basic necessities plus maybe some wild fun money for a new pair of pants, the quality of life improves for many, not just one lone billionaire. The free exchange, flow, transit of money improves the landscape for all. Individuals make investments into their quality of life. Money doesn’t stop flowing when it hits their wallets.

Billionaires are not constrained by minimum wage requirements. They can pay more. They should pay more. Amazon 2018 profits $11,000,000,000/550,000 employees = $20,000. Surely Amazon can cut a bit of profit and float a few more boats.

Money for money’s sake serves no one. Value labor. Float everyone’s boat. American exceptionalism is hampered by a lack of imagination and the concentration of money in a select few pockets.