DRAWN TO SCALE

Posted in Rants on February 28th, 2016 by Ed

The human brain is not great at conceptualizing very large numbers. We know what they mean in the abstract, but it takes a considerable amount of effort to wrap one's mind around the idea of a billion or a trillion of something. Personally, I think this is especially true with long periods of time, which in turn explains why so many people have a difficult time grasping things like evolution or climate change that happen on scales of millions of years. Sure, we read or hear "three million years ago" and think, gosh, that's a long time. But it doesn't properly register just how long a time that is, or how far away Alpha Centauri is, or how many people died during World War II.

This is also true with money. Everyone understands that a millionaire is rich and a billionaire is really rich. When candidates propose, as every Republican presidential candidate has done this year, cutting taxes on people worth that much the average person thinks of the wealthy as being in the same frame of reference as him- or herself. They're not. If we change the units, it's much easier to see how unlike us they really are.

According to the Federal Reserve, the median household income in the United States in 2014 was $54,462. Let's call that $54,500. Now let's compare that to a million and a billion dollars. Finally, let's compare it to the Koch Brothers' combined net worth of $41.1 Billion (call it $41 even).

54,500 seconds is equal to 15 hours. That's the median household's annual income in units of time. A million seconds is 11 days and 12 hours. Quite a difference, isn't it?

A billion seconds is 31 years. Actually, 31.6 years if you want to be specific.

The Koch Brothers' net worth of $41 billion in seconds is 1,296 years.

So when we say "the wealthy" we are not, as most people conceive of it, talking about people doing five, ten, even a hundred times better than us. We are talking about people who don't even exist on the same scale as us.

Despite the fact that the Kochs are more worried about taxes on investments than on income, keep in mind that of the GOP front-runners, Donald Trump wants to lower their tax burden from 39% to 25%. Cruz has proposed a 10% flat tax. Rubio wants to keep the top bracket at 35% but reduce the dividend and capital gains taxes to zero. Because obviously people in that universe of wealth deserve a break compared to someone who actually works for their income.

The point has been beaten to death since the late 1990s that the Republican Party and its affiliated mouthpieces have worked wonders by convincing poor white people to vote against their own economic interests, or to believe in the fantasy of trickle-down benefits to come if only our Job Creators are treated well enough. I wonder how many of those same voters would feel if they could grasp effectively the size of the fortunes of the people they march to the polls to support. They probably envision us all in the same boat. We're not.