A Useful Tool For Radicalizing Your Peers
February 20, 2020 1:53 AM   Subscribe

HOW BIG IS A BILLION? "1,000,000,000" doesn't cut it. A billion is far too large to understand by merely seeing a one followed by 9 zeroes. It is 1,000 millions. The interest on $1,000,000,000 accrues $1,370/day. It would require 4,000 bank accounts to safely store $1,000,000,000. But the best way to understand the size of a billion is to do what we do best... Scroll! Each 1 pixel thick line represents 100.

"I tried representing 1 pixel with the number 10 but that generated a page that went far beyond the mathematical limits of the modern webpage..."

Created by Greg Wohlwend.

You know if you just held the down arrow key on this thing it'd take you over 6 hours?
posted by JimBennett (38 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
It would require 4,000 bank accounts to safely store $1,000,000,000.

Umm, what?
posted by Dysk at 1:56 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


> It would require 4,000 bank accounts to safely store $1,000,000,000.

i'd guess it is this:

https://www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/brochures/deposit-insurance-at-a-glance-english.html

> Since 1933, the FDIC seal has symbolized the safety and security of our nation's financial institutions. FDIC deposit insurance enables consumers to confidently place their money at thousands of FDIC insured banks across the country, and is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

> FDIC deposit insurance coverage depends on two things: (1) whether your chosen financial product is a deposit product; and (2) whether your bank is FDIC-insured.

> The standard insurance amount is $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.

So, even more ridiculously, it would require each of the 4,000 bank accounts to be placed 4,000 different FDIC insured banks. That way, if one or more of the banks fail, the United States government (*) insures your deposit in each impacted account.


(*) if enough banks failed simultaneously, your mileage may vary with the government actually surviving / with your insured currency not becoming massively devalued if the government decides to print a heap of money
posted by are-coral-made at 2:01 AM on February 20, 2020 [9 favorites]




Ah, thanks! I still take issue with the wording though - it would be totally safe to put a billion dollars in a bank account. It wouldn't all be insured/protected, sure, but it's not like depositing beyond a quarter mill is unsafe...
posted by Dysk at 2:08 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


That's low on the interest, surely? 1% of 1,000,000,000 is 10,000,000 a year, or about $28,000 a day. Maybe per hour at 1.5%?
posted by solarion at 2:42 AM on February 20, 2020 [6 favorites]


A million seconds is eleven days. A billion seconds is 31 years.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 2:44 AM on February 20, 2020 [52 favorites]


Not ADD friendly. I only made it part way through 10 million. Apparently I wouldn't have the attention span to be a billionaire even if I wanted to.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:11 AM on February 20, 2020 [10 favorites]


old-timers may recall this
posted by thelonius at 3:16 AM on February 20, 2020 [5 favorites]


I need to know before I click if this is 10^9 or 10^12 so that I can be annoyed based on localisation
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:39 AM on February 20, 2020 [13 favorites]


Literally the first half of the post:

HOW BIG IS A BILLION? "1,000,000,000" doesn't cut it. A billion is far too large to understand by merely seeing a one followed by 9 zeroes. It is 1,000 millions.

That's definitely not 10^12.
posted by Dysk at 4:00 AM on February 20, 2020 [4 favorites]


Twitch streamer demonstrates the power of $1 billion using Notepad and copy-paste

Come for the billion demonstration, stay for the continuous Jew jokes in the twitch chat in the background. Don't ever change, Twitch, you cesspool, you.
posted by Inkoate at 5:09 AM on February 20, 2020 [7 favorites]


In a similar vein to the penny example above, 1 trillion dollars in $100 notes.
posted by quinndexter at 5:19 AM on February 20, 2020 [3 favorites]


Thanks. I hate [the wealth inequality behind] it.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:30 AM on February 20, 2020 [7 favorites]


Please convert this into a unit of measurement that is more relatable to MetaFilter. How many scanned cats is 1,000,000,000?
posted by Fizz at 5:31 AM on February 20, 2020 [6 favorites]


How many scanned cats is 1,000,000,000?

TIL there are only an estimated 600,000,000 cats on earth. (I think most of them live at this house down the street.)
posted by mittens at 5:35 AM on February 20, 2020 [9 favorites]


 It would require 4,000 bank accounts to safely store $1,000,000,000

In my brief and ill-advised time in the financial industry, there was a client whose discreet little startup was this, essentially. Rich but nervous investors (it was just a couple of years after 2001) could stash their millions with him, and he would split it into FDIC-insured accounts across thousands of banks. I think S-Ox did for his initial business plan, as well as the larger private banks starting to offer this as a service too. But I bet lots of small local banks were surprised to see customers from Abigail A. Aardvark to Zbigniew Z. Zymurgy opening accounts, all with just under the FDIC limit.
posted by scruss at 5:52 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


When I was trying to explain income inequality to my teenager, on a whim I took the income of the CEO of my company, divided it by 12 and then by the average mortgage payment and utility bills for our area, pulled up Google maps, and then we counted how many of our neighbor’s homes that person could support each month. It was sobering, and perhaps the most direct visual to show what the effect of such an imbalance is to a community.
posted by Silvery Fish at 6:12 AM on February 20, 2020 [17 favorites]


Sure I'm not the first person to figure it - and I'm bad enough at math that I don't entirely trust my figgerin' - but if you were to make $1000/day or $365 000/year, it would take 2740 years to accrue one billion dollars.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:22 AM on February 20, 2020 [4 favorites]


A million seconds is eleven days. A billion seconds is 31 years.

I was a high school science teacher a bit less than a billion seconds ago and used to use this analogy to prove this very point. However, in the intervening seconds between then and now, I have come to the conclusion that the imposition of "years" over "days" was prejudicial and disingenuous to students. One ought to be able to fathom the difference between 1 and 1,000 without the need of some visualization or mind game. In other words, it's a lot more.

BTW, 1T seconds is the equivalent of 31,574 years, if you ever wanted to go there.
posted by MorgansAmoebas at 6:32 AM on February 20, 2020 [3 favorites]


"The interest on $1,000,000,000 accrues $1,370/day."

This seems very low doesn't it? $1370/day is only like $500k per year. Even at 1% interest, annual interest would be $10 million or roughly $27,000/day, no?
posted by reformedjerk at 6:46 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


This seems very low doesn't it? $1370/day is only like $500k per year. Even at 1% interest, annual interest would be $10 million or roughly $27,000/day, no?

Banks currently return less than 1% interest on savings accounts.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:15 AM on February 20, 2020 [4 favorites]


Obligatory mention of the Visual Capitalist site.. My introduction to this site was this graphic for "All of the World's Money and Markets in One Visualization"
posted by elkevelvet at 7:29 AM on February 20, 2020 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of a joke I once heard: "How much is a billion dollars? Well, it's like you took one dollar, and then had one BILLION of them!"
posted by Marco Polo's Lost Codpiece at 7:29 AM on February 20, 2020


When arguing at the bar I use google maps to show that $1000 is a meter from my front door, a million is a bit of a walk, and a billion is somewhere between Boseman and Billings.
posted by Pembquist at 8:44 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


One ought to be able to fathom the difference between 1 and 1,000 without the need of some visualization or mind game. In other words, it's a lot more.

I'm not convinced that "a lot more" is particularly illuminating. If you tip 100% you've paid "a lot more" than was expected. I don't think that the phrase "a lot more" would fairly describe a tip of 100000%. I don't think people "ought" be able to intuitively understand the difference between quantities which are orders of magnitude apart. On the contrary, I think it's something that we, people in general, are actually very bad at, which is what the visualisations demonstrate.
posted by howfar at 8:57 AM on February 20, 2020 [5 favorites]


It should be noted that the British, up through the 1960's, used the word "billion" to mean a million million, and not a thousand million. A somewhat dated word for thousand million is "milliard".
posted by JimDe at 9:11 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


4k UHD at 3840x2160 is 8.294m pixels. So assuming 60HZ refresh, I guess a billion is like 2 seconds of pixels on a 4k TV. Or about 22.5 screens of pixels on my current mobile phone at 1920 x 1080 resolution. Not sure if that makes anything easier...but there you go.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:01 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


My favorite spin on this sort of thing was a bit by comedian Merle Kessler in one of his books, where his alter ego makes something like $100 million in off a lawsuit and cashed the check. So the bank teller helps him rent a fleet of 17 limos and chauffeurs to drive the money around like a caravan because you couldn't fit that much money. Being new to money he's not sure he can afford it, but of course he can pay for this treatment for centuries. The examples of how ridiculous that much money is pile up to the point where he's annoyed by the logistics and wants to help pay the national debt, but of course all of that only covers even the interest for like 2 hours.

Numbers are based on memory so obviously wrong, but the point is there's just so much room between normal person money, millions, billions, and trillions and it's hard to really think about this in normal terms.

I don't think people "ought" be able to intuitively understand the difference between quantities which are orders of magnitude apart

True. In the context of probability studies* for example people seemed to have an intuitive grasp of 5% to 95% (based on observing, say, behavior while betting or pricing insurance) which is basically a one order of magnitude range. But it breaks down wildly after that.




* Assuming these haven't fallen in the great replication crisis.
posted by mark k at 10:35 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


Inkoate: "Come for the billion demonstration, stay for the continuous Jew jokes in the twitch chat in the background. Don't ever change, Twitch, you cesspool, you."

Oof, I love the dude's explanation but never paid attention to the chat before. Luckily somebody made a "family friendly" version of the same concept if you ever want to share the idea without the background garbage.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:09 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


Another great demonstration of the power of obscene wealth: Elizabeth Warren's proposal to fund a whole laundry list of social programs like universal childcare, Pre-K, special education, and HBCUs by taxing all fortunes over $50 million just two cents on the dollar. Just the fact that so few people hoard so much wealth that just a tiny fraction of it could fund life-changing, generational change for millions of people.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:19 AM on February 20, 2020 [8 favorites]


I had a math teacher in high school back long ago who told us about this teacher who made a binder with a whole lot of pages covered with largish dots. The total number of pages gave one million dots. So if a student asked about a million he would hand them the binder and said there you go. Years later I made a pdf file to duplicate this binder. So you’re telling me that I need a thousand of these binders to get a billion? No problem....
posted by njohnson23 at 1:06 PM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


I kinda wish he'd embedded a 1x1 white pixel in random spots through the whole thing.
posted by bendy at 8:44 PM on February 20, 2020


Sure I'm not the first person to figure it - and I'm bad enough at math that I don't entirely trust my figgerin' - but if you were to make $1000/day or $365 000/year, it would take 2740 years to accrue one billion dollars.

So after about 8200 years, you would have caught up to the $3 billion Trump claims he has.

But then you'd need 167,160 more years to catch up to Bloomberg's $64 billion.

The difference between my fortune and Trump's alleged billions is almost nothing compared with the vast difference between Trump and Bloomberg.
posted by straight at 10:31 PM on February 20, 2020


A somewhat dated word for thousand million is "milliard".
This is still the form in Swedish.
1 000 000 : en miljon
1 000 000 000 : en miljard
1 000 000 000 000 : en biljon
That being said, I can't recall an instance of the term "biljon" being used in the spoken language.
posted by St. Oops at 2:23 AM on February 21, 2020


The difference between my fortune and Trump's alleged billions is almost nothing compared with the vast difference between Trump and Bloomberg.

That would mean you're worth considerably more than $150 million?
posted by howfar at 4:59 AM on February 21, 2020


No, I'm saying distance from zero to $3 billion is tiny compared with the distance between $3 billion and $64 billion.

Bloomburg could spend 10x Trump's net worth (whatever that is) on his campaign and still have a billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars, and another billion dollars...
posted by straight at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2020


But Trump has spent and could spend a 100x a well-off person's net worth on getting elected, and could still have another hundred million dollars, and another hundred million dollars, &c.

The election campaign context doesn't really clarify your position for me. Because the way Bloomberg's campaign is going at the moment suggests that, in politics at least, it's not actually much more useful to be a guy with $64 billion than a guy with $3 billion. Both are levels of wealth that open the door to the presidency, but the difference between them doesn't seem to make getting through it any easier. Trump got elected, Bloomberg is unlikely to even get nominated.

Using 0 as a starting point seems odd to me. Because if you do that then there's no scale to use as a comparator, just the raw numbers. It seems to me that, if you're doing that, you might as well just use 0, 3 and 64, and not worry about the billion.

Your position seems to depend on us already understanding the significance of a billion dollars, while the FPP addresses the observation that we really don't. And unless we do, I'm not sure that we can understand the significance of the repeated billions you mention. Maybe the difference between $3 billion and $64 billion matters a lot, but I don't think we can be as confident of that as your position seems to imply.
posted by howfar at 2:57 PM on February 21, 2020


Sorry, I wasn't really talking about the election but about how we tend to lump billionaires together in our heads. And yeah, in a bunch of social/political ways billionaires belong together as a class.

But thinking just about the sheer numbers, if a billion is an unfathomably huge number, it's crazy to lump someone with one billion dollars in with someone who has 10 billion. If the billionaire is unfathomably distant from me, then the person with 10 billion is far more unfathomably distant from both me and the mere billionaire.
posted by straight at 5:19 PM on February 21, 2020 [1 favorite]


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