Bill Gates Dollars

Most people will have read the recent reports of how Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/default.asp) has had his personal net worth soar over 40 billion dollars. He certainly knows how to make money. Consider that he made this money in the 22 years or so since Microsoft was founded in 1975. If you presume that he has worked 14 hours a day on every business day of the year since then, that means he's been making money at a staggering half-million dollars per hour, *around $150 per second.* Which means that if, on his way into the office, should he see or drop a $500 bill on the ground, it's just not worth his time to bend over and pick it up. He would make more just heading off to work.

It's perhaps more disturbing to look at the slope of his appreciation this year. From January to July he's gained some $16 Billion, meaning that at the rate he's going, if he sees a $10,000 bill, he's just as well to pass it by. (They do exist, but he won't see one until he buys the U.S. treasury -- they are not circulated. Salmon Chase, former secretary of the treasury and chief justice, is on it.) If it's a pile of cash he has to count, it's even worse. At $2,500 per second so far this year, they would have to be thousand-dollar Bills -- and he would need to have a quick hand -- to avoid him losing the money in wasted time while he's counting them. Counting $500 bills would be very unprofitable. The "Too-small-a-bill-for-Bill" index has gone up quite a bit over the years. When Microsoft went public in 1986, the new multimillionaire only had to leave behind $5 bills.

Bill Gates Dollars

Another way to examine this sort of wealth is to compare it to yours. Consider the average American of reasonable but modest wealth. Perhaps she has a net worth of $100,000. Mr. Gates' worth is 400,000 times larger. Which means that if something costs $100,000 to her, to Bill it's as though it costs 25 cents. You can work out the right multiplier for your own net worth.

So for example, you might think a new Lambourghini Diablo would cost $250,000, but in Bill Gates dollars that's *63 cents*. That fully loaded, multimedia active matrix 233 MHZ laptop with the 1024x768 screen you've been drooling after? *A penny*. A nice home in a rich town like Palo Alto, California? *Two dollars*. You might spend $100 on tickets, food and parking to take your family to see an NHL hockey game. Bill, on the other hand could buy _the team_ for *100 Bill-bills*.

You might buy a plane ticket on a Boeing 747 for $1200 at full-fare coach. In Bill-bills, Mr. Gates could buy *three 747s*. One for him, one for Melinda and one for young Jennifer Katherine.


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lic Wednesday, November 5, 1997