No single human needs or deserves this much wealth.

It's becoming more and more popular to incite feelings of anger and bitterness against the super wealthy.

As someone who, at my highest net worth, had a "wealth" of $2.2 million dollars and simultaneously didn't have money to pay rent (true story), I feel that I'm qualified to speak to some of the word games and mind tricks that are used to manipulate the perception of "wealth" on both sides.

In particular I'd like to address:

  • The Zero Sum Myth
  • Money vs Wealth
  • The Most Valueable Share

The Missing Dollar Riddle

Also, before I try to go any further, I think that's it's important to revisit The Missing Dollar (a.k.a Bellhop's Dollar) Riddle:

Three guests check into a hotel room. The manager says the bill is $30, so each guest pays $10. Later the manager realizes the bill should only have been $25. To rectify this, he gives the bellhop $5 as five one-dollar bills to return to the guests.

On the way to the guests' room to refund the money, the bellhop realizes that he cannot equally divide the five one-dollar bills among the three guests. As the guests are not aware of the total of the revised bill, the bellhop decides to just give each guest $1 back and keep $2 as a tip for himself, and proceeds to do so.

As each guest got $1 back, each guest only paid $9, bringing the total paid to $27.

The bellhop kept $2, which when added to the $27, comes to $29.

So if the guests originally handed over $30, what happened to the remaining $1?

Go ahead and see if you can work that out for yourself.

You can also check the link above ^^ to read the full analysis and solution.

My point, however, is that if you know basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication then you know that the dollar didn't magic itself out of existence, but rather there's obviously some wordplay and misdirection to create the riddle.


there's obviously some wordplay and misdirection to create the riddle

1 Pixel Wealth

Next, take a look at 1 Pixel Wealth - but don't take it too seriously.

Much like the riddle above, this is a mixture of fact and fiction designed to manipulate you into reaching an "obvious" conclusion, which is just as false, but not as intuitive to disprove - likely because the average person will equate "wealth" with "money", which is like equating "rectangle" with "square".

In other words: It's bogus trickery / slight-of-hand misdirection.

The Zero Sum Myth

A lot of the arguments about billionaires are based around the idea that they somehow "stole" their wealth - that they made the poor more poor to amass their wealth.

In reality, their wealth isn't so much tangible assets (i.e. boats, cars, houses) as it is their influence.

Look at Walmart and Amazon.

At first you might think they just sell you cheap stuff and get rich while you get poorer.

But what's the alternative?

Well, before they existed you had to pay more and had fewer options.

They didn't create the product, just the distribution channel.

But they do exist, and we pay less and get more. So... they've actually made us richer.

Not only that, but now that they've created the distribution channel you can even sidestep them and get the same "Great Value" and "Amazon Basics" products (or any other products) from the same manufacturers under other generic labels without going through WalMazon at all.

For example, you could buy directly from Alibaba and save (literally) hundreds of dollars. Many items are anywhere between 1/2 and 1/10 the price, plus shipping and handling - and it'll be at your door in just 2 or 3 months!

So really this is a win-win.

  • Your costs are lower with or without them, your conveniences are higher, and you're more rich!
  • Walton and Bezos are more rich

To be fair, there are industries where you quite literally are made poorer by buying their nearly-worthless product (see Why Engagement Rings are a Scam) but participating in these sorts of schemes is generally completely avoidable, and entirely your fault if you don't - you're not compelled to make bad choices. It's your... choice.

Money vs Wealth

You've heard this before:

All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

So now consider it like this:

All money is wealth, but not all wealth is money.

Money is tangible or real. It exists. You can touch it.

Wealth is perceived or estimated value. It doesn't (necessarily) exist.

Here's another example:

What's the cost of free shipping? And, also
What's the value of free shipping?

Obviously free shipping has value, but it doesn't cost anything... right?


  1. The cost of free shipping is exactly the same as the cost of non-free shipping (whatever that is). Let's say $2 (assuming some heavily discounted rate).
  2. The value of free shipping is greater than its cost (otherwise you'd just pay for shipping 😉).

And just to drive home the idea of how ridiculous it is to compare money with wealth:

Imagine that I went to McDonalds and instead of paying for my meal with cash, I insisted that I'd like to pay with "5 free shippings".

It's absurd. It doesn't even make sense.

Yet, I can calculate a cost for free shipping.

And I pay Amazon for free shipping.

And I get value out of free shipping.

But I can't turn around and trade it to pay for something else.

The relationship between the cost and value of free shipping is like the relationship between money and wealth - it's kinda there... but it's kinda not.

Riddle Me This: Playing Pretend

With that in mind, let's "steel man" the argument.

Let's pretend that, as the infographic leads you to think suggests, Bezos actually has $185 Billion as tangible money that can be spent - which he doesn't - but let's pretend that he does.

And rather than cherry picking vaccine distribution or eradication of malaria, let's say that we all have problems that we're dealing with and we just want our "fair" share of his money - that he doesn't deserve (again, absurd).

There are about 7.9 billion people on the planet, and about 331 million people, or 124 million households, in the United States.

"Fairly" distributing to each person on the planet
$185 B / 7.9 B = $23.42

Or just to each American
$185 B / 331 M = $558.91

Or just to each US household
$185 B / 124 M = $1,492

So if we justly and fairly distribute all of Bezos' (pretend) money the best deal you could get out of that is less than your last stimulus check tax refund.


Or if we wanted to be "more fair" we could buy everyone on the planet breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonalds.

So let's attack the 400 richest Americans instead - y'know, get their greedy $3.2 trillion dollars for ourselves:

"Fairly" distributing to each person on the planet
$3.2 T / 7.9 B = $405.06

Or just to each American
$3.2 T / 331 M = $9,668

Or just to each US household
$3.2 T / 124 M = $25,806

So if we pay that out fairly to everyone, we can pay groceries for a month, or maybe two, or at least put a dent in this month's rent.

But what if we're not feeling so generous?

Well, then things are looking pretty good for us. We could really pay down some debts, or put a down payment on a house, or get that medical procedure done.

Or what if we're feeling extremely generous? I mean, if Bezos doesn't deserve that money, do you "deserve" that money either?

Perhaps we could pool together, vote on important issues, and donate our money to particular causes - eradicating malaria, better education, better healthcare - or investing in new technologies - like drone delivery!

Wait a second, that's starting to sound a lot like government, and the stock market...

You know, that $3.8 TRILLION that you were part of paying last year in taxes.


so maybe you should actually put it towards the 16 TRILLION DOLLARS of US tax debt that your unborn grandchildren are already in...

(and if the US Federal Government raked in more money in a single year than the combined wealth that the 400 richest people have amassed over the last several decades... where did that money go???)

The catch

Well, if the money actually existed, I suppose there would be no catch - other than deciding the morally responsible way to distribute it (to be fair and all, of course).

The problem is that the money doesn't exist!

If we pretend that the "wealth" is somehow tied to assets, then perhaps we'd also need to pretend that we'd need to sell off Amazon - the products, the warehouses, everything - to get it!

Yeah, if we just sell it off, then we'd have the money, right? And who needs Amazon anyway?

We'd just need someone to buy all that stuff... with money... now where would we find those people... hmm...

And that's where "the missing dollar" is in this riddle! YOU already have it!

The Most Valuable Share

Hopefully we're clear on the fact that there's some trickery going on.

  • Bezos is worth $185 Billion Dollars
  • Bezos does not have $185 Billion Dollars

So what is the worth and where is it?

Well, it's a mixture of bluffing and playing out "Stone Soup" in real life.

Millionaires may have much of their assets in cash, cars, and real estate, but Billionaires... don't.

They have much of theirs in "shares" - and there's some "whose is bigger" type of trickery going on with this.

Just like top athletes get a few extra inches added to their height than what you could measure at the doctor's office, and prime New York real estate buildings are "bigger on the inside" with 20-30% more square footage in the listing than what can actually be measured...

"Net worth" and "Wealth" are highly exaggerated figures based on bogus math.

It goes like this:

Net Worth = The Single Most Interested Person's Bid x Number of Shares

Imagine it like this:

  • I have 3 lemons.
  • Oops, I mean 3 million lemons.
  • I'm willing to sell 1 lemon today.
  • Bob, Kate, and Pat want a lemon, today.
  • I put one lemon up for bid.
  • Bob wins the bid at $5.
  • I declare that I have $15 million dollars worth of lemmons.

Now imagine this:

  • I'm willing to sell 3 million lemon today.
  • Bob, Kate, and Pat want some lemons, today.
  • I put my lemons up for bid.
  • Bob wins the first bid at 10¢.
  • Kate wins the second bid at 5¢.
  • Pat wins the third bid at 1¢.
  • I have no buyers left, and about 3 million worthless lemons.

But now imagine that instead of lemons, which are actually useful - y'know, for lemonade and such - it's more like stickers that read "AJ is a cool guy".

And also imagine that I'm not even really selling them, but I have a million of them and someone else that bought several thousand from me a long time ago for a penny per hundred is selling them.

So I originally made $10 selling 100,000, but now they're selling for $5 each. But I'm not even getting the $5 - the person who bought them for pennies is.

So I could sell one of my million stickers at $5, if I wanted to.

But If I started selling all of my million stickers, there wouldn't be enough people who wanted to buy them, and it would seem like I didn't care any more, and that would make people less likely to believe that I believe the slogan on the sticker, which would make a sticker that says "AJ is a cool guy" a lot less valuable.

That's kinda how shares of stock and net worth work.

So if Bezos actually were to try to sell his stock for cash (not trading any of it for other stock), and if he were to try to sell a lot of it:

  • the sudden abundant supply would drive down the price
  • the lower price might make others want to sell, creating even more supply
  • it might seem suspicious, which would drive down the price even more
  • the actual sell value would be much less

If it were announced today that Bezos would be legally compelled to sell all of his stock tomorrow, the price would begin to drop immediately as those who already hold stock traded or sold it as quickly as possible to avoid the loss of his stock going into the market.

Bottom line: his net worth would plummet and the cash money wouldn't be close to $185 Billion dollars.

(and even if it were... where would the money come from? would you be buying it? then why not just contribute to the cause you care about, directly?)

By AJ ONeal

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