On Jan. 9, 2024, a user posted a Twitter screenshot to the r/Facepalm subreddit showing a comment claiming that Jeff Bezos, the chairman and founder of Amazon, could give everyone in the world $1 billion, thus solving world poverty, with plenty of money left over:
Bezos is rich, but not that rich. A math error led to the incorrect conclusion that he could end world poverty and give everyone $1 billion each and still have $91.5 billion left.
Snopes was able to find the original New York Post article, published on May 14, 2020, which claimed that Bezos was on track to become the world's first trillionaire by the year 2026. The article was indeed posted to the publication's X (known as Twitter at the time) account. However, in the comments of that post, we were not able to find the original reply to the post as shown in the screenshot on Reddit. Therefore we conclude that the user either realized the error in the post and deleted it, or that the reply never existed at all.
These kind of math mishaps are relatively common. Snopes checked the math of a user making a similar claim about Elon Musk in 2022, and in 2020, Politifact checked a tweet that appeared live on MSNBC claiming that Michael Bloomberg, who at that point was in the midst of a presidential campaign, could have done a similar thing with money left over.
But the post left us with a few interesting questions: How much money could Bezos distribute equally to everyone in the world? What about, let's say, if the world's 10 richest individuals distributed their money equally to everyone in the world? How much money would it take before you could give everyone $1 million? We used Forbes' Real Time Billionaires page for wealth data and Worldometer's population counter to estimate the current world population, which we rounded to 8.085 billion (and growing!)
Distributing Bezos' Wealth
First, the easiest calculation: Forbes lists Bezos's net worth at $176.2 billion. To calculate how much every individual would receive, we divide Bezos's wealth by the number of people on the planet. That calculation, $176,200,000,000 / $8,085,000,000, can be simplified a bit by removing some of the remaining zeroes at the end, bringing it down to $176,200 / 8,085 = 21.79. That's roughly a $20 bill for every person on the planet, with some pocket change thrown in.
The 10 Richest People
Alongside Bezos, we found seven technology titans — including Elon Musk (No. 1), Mark Zuckerberg (No. 5) and Bill Gates (No. 7) — the investor Warren Buffet (No. 6), and the owner of the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, Bernard Arnault (No. 2). The total wealth of the top 10 individuals adds up to $1.455 trillion. Dividing that wealth by the 8 billion people on the planet gives us a result of $179.93 per person, $45 short of the weekly food cost for a family of four using the USDA's Monthly Cost of Food Report for November 2023.
Giving Everyone $1 Million
This is a thought experiment, so we're going to ignore the obvious economic and social consequences of such an action. Multiplying 8.085 billion people by $1 million per individual adds an extra six zeroes, giving us a total of 8.085 quadrillion. We're going to have to up our scale factor dramatically.
The gross domestic product (GDP) is a number that measures the value of all of the goods and services produced in a certain area over a certain amount of time. According to data from Statista.org, the GDP of the United States is about $25 trillion. Using that comparison, there would have to be over 100 U.S.-level economies in the world just to reach 2 quadrillion. In fact, the GDP of the entire world economy is estimated at only about $100 trillion.
Given those totals, if everyone in the world had exactly the same amount of money as everyone else, we would all have $12,368.58 in our bank accounts. It's safe to say that Bezos isn't going to be handing over $1 billion to everyone on the planet any time soon.