Jeff Bezos is rich. This much we know to be true. But exactly how rich he is, and how his wealth compares to the 7.594 billion people in the world (minus one) who aren’t Jeff Bezos is difficult to fathom. Trying to comprehend it usually involves one of those descriptions of eternity where a bird sharpens its beak on a mountain every thousand years until the rock is worn away, except in this case the mountain is made of money and the scratches represent the average annual income of an American worker.
But here’s a better way: take a scroll through this amazing data visualization of Bezos’ wealth in which every pixel represents $1,000. Trust me, you’ll get tired of scrolling before you get even a third of the way through Bezos’ $139 billion net worth. And after that you’ve got to get through the $2.96 trillion that’s owned by the 400 richest Americans. (Tip: try opening the link on your phone if you can’t scroll sideways on your desktop.)
The whole experience is sobering, to say the least. We all know that there are some stupidly rich people in the world and Bezos is one of them, but it’s difficult for us to intuitively understand just how big these big numbers are. The experience reminded me of that amazing quote from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
And your lifetime earnings are peanuts compared to Bezos’ net worth. As was demonstrated earlier this year when he bought the most expensive house in LA for an eight of a percent of his wealth. If you earn $60,000 a year that’s like spending $75 on a house.
This visualization, made by web developer Matt Korostoff, isn’t the first we’ve seen that tries to bring the extreme wealth inequality of the modern era into the realm of the comprehensible, but it is one of the simplest and therefore the most eloquent. It also includes the notable fact that the 400 richest Americans, who own $2.96 trillion, or more than the poorest 60 percent of the country, could comfortably fit on a single 747 airplane.
As noted in the long scroll itself, this isn’t an idle exercise, either: most Americans want a more equal distribution of wealth than currently exists, but don’t always understand how rich the rich really are. Data visualizations like this, which also show how the wealth of the 0.001 percent could address many of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges, are tools that help bridge that mental divide. And leave us, most likely, with more questions than we started with. Just how rich is Jeff Bezos, and do you think he deserves it?