# Run, Bezos, Run

by on May 6, 2024

A transcript from memory of an evening conversation with my two older sons:

“I heard that Jeff Bezos could run through the streets every day, throwing hundred dollar bills in the air, and he’d still be making money.”

“I wonder if that’s true?”

“Okay, how much is Jeff Bezos worth?”

“Uh [googling]… wow, it says about \$203 billion.”

“Okay, so let’s say he can get three percent interest on that.  That would be six billion dollars per year, which would be about… [taps on phone] oh, around 17 million dollars a day.  So if he runs around throwing money in the air, eight hours a day, he’ll have to throw a little over two million dollars an hour.”

“That seems doable.”

“Does it?”

“How much does two million dollars weigh?”

“Checking… okay, so it says a hundred-dollar bill weighs one gram.  Two million dollars is twenty thousand dollar bills, so that’s twenty kilograms.  So that’s easy.”

“Yeah, but eight hours.  That’s a hundred and sixty kilograms.”

“So he just has a guy behind him pushing a –“

[other two together]  “No!”

“He has to do it alone.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, fine.  So he has a backpack with twenty kilograms in hundreds, he runs around throwing it, and every hour he goes back and refills.”

“Yeah, but then you have to take out refill time.”

“Fine, whatever.  Give him five minutes an hour to refill the backpack.”

“Well, what about throwing the money?  Let’s see.  17 million divided by eight hours is about 2.1 million per hour.  He’s throwing 55 minutes per hour, so… wait a second [taps on phone]… he needs to throw about \$38,000 per minute.”

“Don’t hundreds come in packs?  Like, fifty or a hundred at a time?”

“Yeah, straps.  A hundred hundreds to a strap.”

[other two stare]

“I just know that, okay?”

“All right, so that’s ten thousand.  So he just has to chuck three straps a minute.”

[other two together]  “No!”

“What no?”

“He has to throw /individual/ bills.”

“Yeah, one at a time.  He can’t just fling a strap of hundreds at somebody.  That’s cheating.”

“Okay fine, whatever.  So he has to throw more than 300 hundreds in the air per minute.”

“That’s five … no, six per second.  Six hundred-dollar bills every second.”

“Bit more, yeah.”

[general thoughtful pause]

“Well… maybe he’s flicking them like a card dealer?”

“Or he grabs a handful and releases them quickly as he runs.  Like, letting them fall out through his fingers?  That would work.”

“Wait a second.  Is he running?”

“Of course he’s running!”

“I think he has to be.  The man is throwing millions of dollars around.  People will notice.”

“Yeah, he has to run or he’ll be mobbed.”

“Wait, but where is he doing this?  Like, New York City?”

“No, that’s not fair.  There shouldn’t be huge crowds.  He has to have room to run.”

“Yeah, but he can’t be, like, in the middle of the desert either.  There have to be some people around to grab the money he’s throwing.  Otherwise, there’s no point.”

“So a small town or something?”

“Well, someplace with people, but not too many people.  So he doesn’t have to /run/ run.  If he just keeps up a jog, he should be okay.”

“Yeah, let’s say as long as he’s, like, trotting along, most people will be too busy grabbing the hundreds to try to tackle him.”

“Say a ten minute mile?”

[blank looks from two European-born sons]

“About six and a half minutes per kilometer?  Let’s say seven.  That’s a slow jog, but it’s definitely a jog.”

“But he has to keep this up for eight hours?  That’s, like…”

“Almost two marathons… no, a marathon and a half.  Ish.”

“Okay, but slow ones.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Bezos is pretty buff.”

“Yeah.  A lot of billionaires get kinda squashy, but Bezos hits the gym.”

“Okay, but you want him to run two marathons — “

“More like one and a half, really.  And slow ones.”

” — while also fling, fling, flinging his money away, six bills a second.  Not counting reaching into the backpack and ripping the bands off the straps. And he has to carry the weight of the backpack, too.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm, yeah.  I mean, he’s buff and all, but this is more cardio, right?”

“Yeah this would be endurance.  And speed and skill.”

[pause]

“Well, he gets five minutes off every hour.”

“Does he get lunch?  Coffee break?”

“What do his employees get?  Like, the warehouse guys.”

“Checking… okay it says it depends, but usually 15 minutes every four hours.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm.”

— We all had to get up early the next day, so no conclusion was reached.

1

Lynne 05.06.24 at 12:32 pm

I really love this. Thanks for sharing.

2

oldster 05.06.24 at 1:57 pm

I think you reached the conclusion that the claim is true. Here’s the claim:
““I heard that Jeff Bezos could run through the streets every day, throwing hundred dollar bills in the air, and he’d still be making money.””
You found that there’s a very reasonable set of circumstances that would make this claim true. And when a claim that “x could happen” has a number of specifications or disambiguations, then it seems to me that it can be treated as true if it is true on a large enough set of specifications that are themselves reasonable. The claim by itself is not entirely specific, so there may be specifications of it on which it would turn out to be not true (perhaps he could not, if he has to do it all barefoot, or while holding his breath). But you have sketched out a specification on which it is true: he could.
(Note that the most questionable part of the specification you entertain is that he could launch 6 distinct bills into the air every second. But if that is false, and he can launch only 5 or 4 or 1 per second, then the original claim is still vindicated, because then he is spending less — and still earning more than that lower figure with the 3% returns on current wealth).
A conclusion was reached. The original claim is true.

3

steven t johnson 05.06.24 at 2:27 pm

The easy conclusion: Kill all the billionaires.

4

Kent Reames 05.06.24 at 2:40 pm

Years ago I came up with a different metaphor that’s probably less attractive, but I’ll share it anyway.

Imagine standing at the foot of the tallest building in the world. Everyone walks up and graphs their current wealth on the side of the building. One foot of height equals \$1 million. So if you’ve been saving a while and your net worth is \$250,000, you lie down on the sidewalk to make your little mark, representing all your savings, at 3 inches off the ground. If you’re pretty rich and have \$2 million, you get to make a mark 2 feet off the ground. If you’re crazy rich and have \$10 million, it’s the height of a basketball hoop. Now, how high is a billionaire? How high is Jeff Bezos?

At \$203 billion (I’m assuming the OP is correct), Jeff Bezos makes his mark at 203,000 feet in the air. Airplanes fly at ~35,000 feet. If I’m doing the math right then 203,000 feet is about 62 kilometers up — technically part of the mesosphere, above the stratosphere. Wikipedia tells me that satellites can orbit the earth at 73 km… so he’s almost there! Maybe next year.

5

Daniel 05.06.24 at 9:25 pm

My favorite simple example: If you have a million dollars, you can spend a \$1,000 a day for little under 3 years. If you have a billion, you can spend a \$1,000 a day for a little less than 1,000 years. Or, another way, if you have a billion you can spend a million dollars a day for nearly 3 years. Most of us little intuition for large numbers. We have become used to billionaires and don’t see how absurd it is for billionaires to have so much of the world’s wealth.
The human body is made up of 30 trillion cells. U.S. GDP is \$20 trillion. The earth is 41/2 billion years old. We can easily calculate with these numbers, but our intuitions are not very good.

6

Alan White 05.06.24 at 11:25 pm

Great conversation–love the imagery and calculations.

In my classes to give my students a sense of relative wealth I riffed from an example in John Allen Paulos’ wonderful book Innumeracy. Spend a given fortune a dollar a second 24/7. A thousand dollars doesn’t last 17 minutes. A million dollars only a bit less than 12 days. A billion dollars though lasts not quite 32 years! So Bezo’s current fortune would last 6, 496 years! You can see that a million dollar contribution to charity means nothing to him. The ultrarich are genuinely almost unimaginably so.

7

KT2 05.07.24 at 2:03 am

Doug Muir, did you see and post “steven t johnson 05.06.24 at 2:27 pm “The easy conclusion…”?

8

Moz in Oz 05.07.24 at 5:33 am

Kent: is this why Bezos et al are so keen on taking rides into space?

IIRC a quarter of the US would be digging a little hole to mark their wealth in the -1M to zero zone.

But the good news is that the mean wealth is significantly above zero because crude averages are really handy for people who want to lie with statistics.

9

Gareth Richard Samuel Wilson 05.07.24 at 8:24 am

OK, so how much does Bezos actually spend each year? Some tiny fraction of the theoretical market value of his assets, presumably. And obviously spending is what’s relevant to inequality.

10

David in Tokyo 05.07.24 at 8:39 am

The freaky thing about JB is that he had to give up half his wealth to divorce his wife to cavort with younger women, but he bounced back to the top almost immediately.

I find it hard to hate JB, even though I know I should: here in Tokyo, the pickings in English language books were really slim back when Amazon first started, and it was a real joy to be able to browse for and order stuff not available locally. Thanks JB! But you’re still a pig.

My current agree-with-the-JB-haters thing is freaking out about ebooks. For much of the stuff we read here (the lighter stuff), it’s a real pleasure not having to kill trees and make space for all that pulp, but stuff that I’d like to still have 10 years from now has the problem that to be able to read it then, Amazon still has to be around and I still have to have an Amazon account. I’m 71, so I suppose Amazon will probably outlast me. Probably.

11

David in Tokyo@9: but stuff that I’d like to still have 10 years from now has the problem that to be able to read it then, Amazon still has to be around and I still have to have an Amazon account.

Well … not quite. Check out calibre. If you have a Kindle e-ink reader (i.e., Paperwhite), you can connect it to your computer with a USB cable and download directly from the reader into calibre’s archive.

For more extensive information, do a Web search for, say, ‘calibre and amazon ebooks’; there are lots of hints about how to deal with the longevity of downloaded books.

12

DavidtheK 05.07.24 at 11:58 am

Re Daniel @5: A million seconds ago takes you all the way back in history to where you were 11 days ago. A billion seconds takes you back 33 years. 100 billion seconds would be all the way back to the earliest bible events. I’m not sure how many 100 billions you need to go back to the dawn of human agriculture. And as an aside complaining about a million dollar overrun on a billion dollar project is like it being 11 days late after taking 33 years to complete.

13

engels 05.07.24 at 12:53 pm

here in Tokyo, the pickings in English language books were really slim back when Amazon first started, and it was a real joy to be able to browse for and order stuff not available locally

That’s nice. I guess it makes up for the three large bookshops that shut down in Bristol to be replaced by a remainder shop and boarded up space.

14

engels 05.07.24 at 1:10 pm

”What do his employees get? Like, the warehouse guys.”

Shifts began in the gloom at 7.30am and ended at 6pm, long after the sun had gone down. … Two half-hour breaks were the only time off my feet, but it was barely enough time to race to the canteen and wolf down some food to keep my energy up. My body ached, and my fitness tracker showed I walked at least 10 miles most days. Despite being a keen marathon runner, the physical effort left me feeling dizzy, and I worried I might keel over if I kept pushing myself as hard as I needed to meet my targets. One colleague was taken to hospital by ambulance when they collapsed on the job, after struggling on despite feeling unwell. Another worker appears to sleep during a gruelling shift inside the online giant’s distribution centre ( Image: Mirrorpix) Another ambulance was called after a girl suffered a panic attack when she was told compulsory overtime would mean her working up to 55 hours a week over Christmas. One of my colleagues told me: “Everybody suffers here. I pulled my hamstring but I just had to carry on. My friend spent two days off after she damaged her knee ligaments.” With my secret camera, I documented colleagues snatching a moment to rest their aching feet when supervisors could not see them. Less lucky ones were told off after being caught taking a breather. Some simply slept where they stood…

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/undercover-amazon-exhausted-humans-inefficient-11593145

15

eg 05.07.24 at 1:16 pm

Gareth @8

The vast bulk of Bezos’ “earnings” (most of which are unearned, to use a now very unfashionable term from the classical economists) aren’t spent on consumption, no matter how profligate his personal lifestyle. Most of it goes towards the purchase of yet more assets, which in turn yield yet more unearned income in subsequent years.

16

c1ue 05.07.24 at 3:41 pm

It is clear the author has never actually taken (or deposited) significant sums of cash with a bank.
First of all – you can’t get millions of dollars in cash without a lot of advance notice. And SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports). Bezos or not, banks simply don’t carry that much cash on hand.
Secondly, the bank is not going to give you that money without counting it first – for its own purposes. Sure, they can count it ahead of time but unless you are an idiot, you need to count it if they don’t do it in front of you. Even with a machine, that takes appreciable time for large numbers of bills.
Third: straps of bills are hard to handle in terms of breakdown. Go and get a strap of \$1 bills (\$100 worth) and then take \$100 of random \$1 bills and put them next to each other – the random bill stack will be 2x or more the height.
That’s because a strap is not just 100 bills, it is 100 brand new bills generally in consecutive order. And separating out 100 brand new bills that are as tightly squeezed together as possible is not an easy or slow process. The Bellagio used to sell “books” of bills – basically like a strap but only 50, but also different in that they were already “separated” but glued together on a top binding. I am pretty sure this was created originally for Asians and New Year’s gifts because the books started out as red and had bill denomination variants from \$1 to \$100, including \$2 bill books (which is how I know about them). A Bellagio book, even with its cover removed, is a lot more than 50% of the height of a mint strap despite having half the bills – the difference is entirely a function of pre-separation.
Anyhow, amusing article – just adding some addition real world factors to the calculations.
The biggest real world factor is that Bezos would last probably 30 minutes before someone figured out that taking him down would yield life-changing wealth in cash.
So no, never gonna happen.

17

cfraenkel 05.07.24 at 4:57 pm

And obviously spending is what’s relevant to inequality.
This is obviously NOT true, so obvious that it counts as trolling. There’s a reason it’s called income inequality. When the lion’s share of income flows up to the CEO, that income share is not flowing to the rest of us. When a \$10,000 unexpected medical bill comes due, what’s important? How much you spent last month on dining out, or how much is in your bank account? (assuming it’s not net negative, as Moz points out) And since for those of us in the negative balance cohort end up forced to use credit to eat, where do you suppose those usury payments flow to?

18

M 05.07.24 at 6:12 pm

Gareth @8: I don’t know Bezos’ overall spending habits but in a 2017 Reuters article, it was reported that Bezos sells \$1B in Amazon stock per year just to fund his rocketship company, Blue Origin.

19

Trader Joe 05.07.24 at 7:26 pm

Amusing and reminiscent of far too many college dorm room discussions that usually also involved a 6-pack or other recreational use substances.

The lesson here, which has yet to be learned by most governments, is that any idiot can run down the street throwing out \$100 bills but that doesn’t really amount to wealth redistribution because the people who need the money probably aren’t standing around on the street and among the people who are, the money is more likely to end up in the hands of the strongest or most well armed rather than the most deserving.

It would be more efficient to hold a lottery letting anyone enter if they wanted to and then pay out \$X million dollars to say – anyone who guessed an odd number vs and even number. No messy bills, no sweaty track suit…..he’d just put the money on amazon trucks and roll it out to all the winners easily distributing the sum in less than 2 days to Prime members and slightly longer for those who aren’t.

20

Matthew G. Saroff 05.07.24 at 10:39 pm

Reminds me figuring out how much it cost for Michael Eisner to pee when he was at work.

I think that I figured that they could pay a piss boy \$¼ million a year and still save money.

21

Gareth Richard Samuel Wilson 05.08.24 at 2:02 am

If Bezos spends a billion dollars on rocketships, he’s consuming skilled labour and expensive materials that someone else could use. If he just has a billion dollars and doesn’t spend it, he consumes nothing.

22

David in Tokyo 05.08.24 at 9:05 am

Yes. I use Calibre. They’re playing a whack-a-mole game with Kindle text management, so it’s not clear that it will work the next time you try it. The last time I checked, Amazon US titles had gotten one step ahead, but Amazon Japanese titles were still whackable.

I’m doubly pissed at the current round of AI, though. First, it’s complete garbage, BS, parlor trick level stupidity, whereas AI actually could be a serious intellectual discipline had the charlatains not taken it over. But to add injury to insult, the quite reasonable irritation of the NYT and other folks at the AI types using their text without paying for it, makes my using actually paid for text here likely to become problematic, since I’m doing some amateur linguist corpus stuff with fairly large (for an amateur) amounts of Japanese text. So I really can’t show the work to anyone. Sheesh.

23

William Roark 05.09.24 at 4:56 am

RE: If you have a billion [dollars], you can spend a \$1,000 a day for a little less than 1,000 years. (from Daniel, # 5).

This spending timeline is actually too low. Spending down \$1 billion (\$1,000,000,000) at the rate of \$1000 / day, means you’ll spend it all down in 1 million days (1,000, 000 days). If we define a year at 365.2425 days (to allow for leap years & leap centuries), then 1,000,000 days / 365.2425 days = 2737.907 . . . years, which is 2737 years and a bit over 331 days (nearly 7 hrs into day 332). So, approx. 2738 years or somewhat close to 3 millennia of time.

Let’s note that if you can live a life where you can average a spending rate of \$1000 / day, that means you are spending an annual income of \$365,000–an amount that allows you to be considered as already wealthy (the Pew Research Center defines a top 1% income at \$350,000 for 2022).

For me, a noted reason (of several) why billionaire fortunes should NOT exist.

24

David in Tokyo 05.09.24 at 7:24 am

WR wrote: “…Spending down \$1 billion (\$1,000,000,000) at the rate of \$1000 / day, means you’ll spend it all down in 1 million days …”

Or he could just get married and divorced every year. Then it just takes the log base 2 of the amount to burn it. Assuming he’s up to 256 billion when he starts, that’s 8 wives to get down to 1 billion, and another 10 to get down to 1 million. One million’s more than I’ve got, and I’m doing fine (by my standards, desires, hobbies).

25

Monte Davis 05.09.24 at 1:27 pm

Moz in Oz @8: a quarter of the US would be digging a little hole to mark their wealth in the -1M to zero zone.

You’ve made my day — I’m barely scratching the surface!

26

engels 05.09.24 at 3:38 pm

a quarter of the US would be digging a little hole to mark their wealth in the -1M to zero zone

Further important context: the sidewalk is flooded and everyone near ground level is at constant risk of drowning. Which is why the basket ball hoop guys can pay them peanuts to add more floors to the skyscraper.

27

P.M.Lawrence 05.11.24 at 4:46 am

According to Grandpa Simpson, in the old days millionaires used to fly around in Zeppelins throwing silver dollars at people below. Maybe this is why.

Comments on this entry are closed.