Spend Bill Gates’s Money

The rudimentary web page “Spend Bill Gates’ Money” is at neal.fun, a site that also includes “Progress,” which counts down everything from the next minute to when the Milky Way will collide with Andromeda; “Life Checklist”; “Where Does the Day Go?”; and “Who was Alive,” which lets you enter a date. (Neal is Neal Agarwal, a coder “trying to make the web more fun.”)

Bill Gates is the second-richest person on the planet, worth about $104 billion. Jeff Bezos beat him by $14 billion last year, in part due to Gates’ charitable giving. But Gates still got $12 billion richer last year alone. The site lists his worth at $90 billion, which is yours to spend.

Choices are limited to 42 items, however, from a Big Mac ($2) to a cruise ship ($1.2 billion). The prices are off, too. I do not need a $15,000 Rolex, just the $8,000 version. You can buy as many of one thing as you like, but beware: when you try to sell them back, they will only sell one at a time. If you get buyer’s regret for ordering 45 billion Big Macs, you will have to hit the sell button 45 billion times to unload the cold burgers. (You know McDonald’s will not take them back. The company’s net worth is $104 billion, so they will have nearly doubled their value.)

It is fun to imagine having the kind of money where price means nothing. Two Lamborghinis and two skateboards for my kids would leave me $89,999,599,400. Yet even $90 billion is not unlimited. Split it among the people of earth, and everybody gets just 13 bucks.

I suppose that financially I think in tiers. The first tier is stuff I would buy that is not unreasonable but still beyond me—house repairs, a decent couch, a new starter.

The second tier is a big mental jump, to what I would need to be completely independent for the rest of my life. This is hard to figure, even thinking simply and modestly, since it goes far beyond a paid-off house, car, and food. We cannot buy things once in a consumer culture; smartphones and tennis shoes must be replaced. And there is all the expenditures we do not think of on a daily basis, from oil changes to flood insurance. But Gates’ kind of money could obviously set up tens of thousands of people for life, with everything to make them comfortable, plus a modest income. Spread around in other ways, it could (and sometimes does) pay for research and development that could help us all.

Weirdly, the third tier of wealth is not as hard to imagine. Third tier is nation-state level, for when you want to be king. Gates could pay for 1.45 billion barrels of oil, 1.5 times the entire US strategic reserve. He could buy 6,000 F-16s, according to the site, which is double the number of all military aircraft of China. But you know what they say—F-16s drop half their value the minute you fly them off the lot. And the two happiest days of an aircraft-carrier owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it.

So how much would it cost to buy the continental cordillera from Canada to Chile and make it a wildlife sanctuary? Be smart with your money.

Of course, the real answer is that Bill Gates would not buy any of it, being famously frugal, which is how you stay rich. You can get the benefits of F-16s and the Mona Lisa (listed for $780 million on the site) on the public’s dime.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.