What Can’t a Billion Dollars Buy?

What Can’t a Billion Dollars Buy?


Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday. So over at CrashCourse, Adrian Hill has just started hosting a great new series on statistics, and in a recent episode called “Mathematical Thinking” she helped me understand the difference between big numbers. In general, humans are notoriously bad at big numbers. Like, I don’t really understand the difference between a billion and a trillion, because they’re both, like, a lot. So how am I to process the fact that, for instance, there are over one hundred trillion microorganisms currently living in or on my body? Poorly, that’s how I’m gonna process it, on every level. But, right, this is one of the things that makes government budgets, for instance, so notoriously difficult to parse. Like the U.S. spends, by the broadest definition, around fifty billion dollars a year in foreign aid, which is a LOT of money, but it’s also just over 1% of the federal budget. Here’s another big number: 4.6 billion dollars. That’s how much the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation donated in 2016. That’s a lot of money, but it also isn’t. If you gave every American an equal slice of that 4.6 billion dollars, we’d each get about 13 bucks. So there’s a lot that 4.6 billion dollars a year can’t buy. For instance, it can’t pay for enough teachers to serve all the kids who are getting inadequate instruction worldwide. It can’t pay for everyone to have access to primary healthcare, and according to current market rates, 4.6 billion dollars will only buy you 32.3 Phillipe Countinhos. I’m getting sidetracked by Liverpool, but, right, every year Melinda and Bill Gates release an annual letter, which Hank and I have been following for several years now. And this year, the letter takes the form of answering ten tough questions they get. They range from “Won’t saving kids’ lives lead to overpopulation?”, which is actually an easy one to answer—no, it won’t— to more complicated questions like “Why don’t you spend more money in the United States?” and “How has Donald Trump affected your work?” and “Is it fair that you have so much influence?” It’s always worth reading the annual letter; there is a link in the doobly-doo below. But I emerged from it with another difficult question: If 4.6 billion dollars a year isn’t enough to solve the world’s biggest problems, then are we just, like… completely screwed? (I think that’s the technical term.) I actually got to ask Bill Gates about this on a phone call a couple weeks ago, and the first thing he pointed out to me is that not every dollar spent has equal impact. Quick definition: The Green Revolution was a huge increase in agricultural yields due to better irrigation techniques, better fertilizers, and better seeds. By the late 1960’s, it had helped increase the number of available calories per person by 25% and helped decrease the number of people dying from malnutrition worldwide. Okay, back to the quote. And on this, I completely agree. Breakthrough technologies can be absolutely transformational, and investing in better systems can be disproportionately effective because those systems can continue to produce good results over time, even after you stopped funding them. This is why the Gates Foundation is investing in better toilets and new vaccines, but also in primary healthcare systems. It’s also why, when spent well, the U.S.’s foreign aid budget actually can go a really long way. Like, beginning during the George W. Bush presidency, the U.S. invested a few billion dollars a year to improve access to and availability of AIDS treatment in the developing world. That program had lots of flaws, for one thing it focused way too much on abstinence-only strategies, but nonetheless, a 2009 study found that it saved 1.2 million lives. You probably don’t have a billion dollars, but I believe that how each of use chooses to use our resources shapes the world we end up sharing. And that goes for how we spend our money, but also the resources of our attention and our time. Here’s another big number that at the same time is very small: Twenty-six thousand ninety-seven. That’s how many days the average human born today will live to see. Let’s make them count. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. US MILITARY SPENDS over $2000 dollars on one single person tent-The same one you can buy for $300bucks.They blow money like confetti. They overpay for BS

  2. this is really nice to hear because I now give $70 a month to charity and I feel like it's not enough. To 3 charities I only give $10 each. But it's nice to know that yes, that money is going somewhere. Because if just 1000 people give $10 each. That's like $10, 000. So, yeah, that's what I took out of it.

  3. Investment in a permanent solution outweighs investment in a temporary solution… You can spend a crap ton of money for helping people but if you can't even think of a permanent solution then you're just tossing money into a fire

  4. Why did I think was a video about what hella money can't buy like states, countries, people, planets lol
    I feel like this video was more boring and depressing than it should've been
    It was just a bill gates quote and the interpretation of
    Felt like I was in a econ or sociology class

  5. I feel like a billion could buy a fair bit in community health at least at the muncipal or county level, and that's not peanuts to me.

  6. I don't think Billy G is doing anything good. He got rich by exploitative practices. Real philanthropy is paying your full taxes. Only local public infrastructure can even hope to remedy the shortcomings of this world. Depending on few billionaires to throw some money our way is not a great way to actually have free independent people.

  7. Wow. I always kind of thought that if I were a billionaire, I would be able to fix most of the world's problems (naive, I know). When you put it into perspective though that 4.6 billion dollars split among U.S. Americans they'd only get about thirteen dollars, it seemed a little depressing at first. But then it got me thinking that all of us together working for a cause can have a pretty big impact (i.e. everyone in the nation donating $13 each would end up providing literally billions in aid). It also kind of made me rethink the whole celebrity activism thing. A lot of the time if a celebrity is trying to get people to donate to a cause, some people will say "Well why should we donate? They're rich enough to give more money than we can." When you bear in mind that most celebrities are not billionaires, but that most of them (depending on how famous they are, how well their projects have done, and how they spend their money) at best are millionaires, and even if they donate a million dollars, in comparison for everyone in the U.S. to donate the same amount, they would only have to donate about a third of a penny. This means that a cause will have a much bigger impact if more people join in on it. For instance, if every person donated $3, that donation would have more than nine times the impact of just that one celebrity alone.

  8. i wonder if bill gates can help me with my friends being too drunk all the time. or is that a real problem such a big man should worry himself about

  9. 1% of the US budget is an insane amount of money especially considering the race and income inequality issues in America. Progressives love to virtue signal about spending other people's money, but they're always so misguided in how it's spent. They spend millions of dollars promoting a DDT ban, and now millions of Africans are killed every year by malaria. Why didn't they spend some of that advertising cash on a reliable replacement for DDT? Because progressives never build anything, they make their bones destroying things. If you think tax money for climate change is a good idea, spend 5 minutes looking at the history of Yellowstone Park, and see how badly "environmentalists" in the government took care of the place. Kindly start ignoring the emotion driven leftists, they honestly have NO idea what they're talking about, like at all.

    PS, name another country that spends more than 1% of their GPD on foreign nations for NOTHING in return.

  10. The last line (before 'hank I'll see you on Friday') was so emotional… I never put the number of days I lived in big numbers. I always looked at them as years. From one digit value it changed to a two digit value. Out of the 6059 days of my existence, many days went by on autopilot… 🙁

  11. Really good stuff, reminds me of the book "The Givers" which was an eye opening look into the world of philanthropy.

  12. I know that a million seconds is 11 days and a billion seconds is 31.7 years.
    A trillion seconds is 31,708.9 years. A trillion seconds ago there was no recorded history.
    Its the only way I can process big numbers

  13. The most tragic thing, I think, is that billions and billions of dollars that could be used to help humanity are parked in the bank accounts of millionaire and billionaire CEOs and other executives, much like dragons sitting atop hoards of wealth while people starve in villages below.

    The redistribution of wealth is the single most powerful ability of the state, so much so that when FDR taxed the hell out of the rich, it single-handedly saved America from the Great Depression.

    Money is like manure. Hoard it in a big pile, and it stinks. Spread it around, and everything grows.

  14. A million seconds is right around 2 weeks.
    A billion seconds is just over 35 years.
    A trillion seconds is close to 31,000 years.

  15. I have to disagree with "saving kids' lives doesn't add to overpopulation". It literally does by definition; the less people who die, the more people there are.

  16. The US has nearly $20 TRILLION GDP. That's 20,000 billion dollars, a lot more than what Bill Gates has, and that's just the US. The EU GDP is about the same, China is $12 trillion. So how can even the richest man stack up to world GDP?

  17. As a 35 year old dude, I watch your videos and think how much they could have helped me when I was six or sixteen or twenty six. They still help me now. Just wanted to say thanks and that you’ve literally saved lives. Keep up the good work guys. Hope is the thing with feathers.

  18. I really appreciate that the autoplay on this channel can take you from John green telling you to make everyday day count in a meaningful concise way, to John green with peanut butter smeared all over his face talking to himself

  19. "26,097. That's how many days the average human will live to see. Let's make them count." A wise author.

    "This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time." Another equally wise author.

    I'm thinking it's time to start making life happen instead of watching life happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *