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Would Bill Gates Pick Up A $100 Bill?

December 12, 2018

I found some money today. It was just laying on the ground. I stopped and picked it up. Why not? It’s free money.

There are people who honestly think I shouldn’t pick it up. They’ve done a cost/benefit analysis and think that there’s a certain amount, below which it’s actually counter-productive to stop and pick up money.

Here’s how it works. You take your annual salary, let’s suppose it’s $80,000/year. That means that you make about $40/hour given a typical 40 hour week. If you break that down into a per second rate, that comes to $0.011 per second. That means that if it takes me longer than a second to pick up a penny, it’s not worth it to pick it up. The more I earn the more impractical it is to pick up money.

Let’s look at Bill Gates. It was while working for Microsoft that I heard someone make this analysis. In 2013 Bill Gates made $11.5B. That works out to $33.3M per day, $1.38M per hour. Or $385 per second.

So, imagine Bill Gates walking down the street. He sees a $100 bill laying on the ground. Should he pick it up? The cost/benefit analysis says that he shouldn’t. Not if it will take him longer than a quarter of a second. Obviously, it would take him longer than that to reach down and pick up a bill off the ground.

BTW, the cost/benefit anlysis is wrong. Bill Gates absolutely should pick up the $100. He will end up $100 richer. Not that he needs the money, of course, but he won’t lose any wealth by choosing to pick up money off the street.

The problem with the cost/benefit analysis is that it assumes a zero-sum-game. It assumes that any time spent picking up free money off the street is time that will not be spent earning money in your regular profession. That’s not true. If Bill Gates picks up a $100 bill or a $5 bill, He will still earn the same amount.

My job pays me a salary. I don’t earn money by the hour. My boss, of course, expects me to put in an honest days work. And, trust me, that’s an important thing for me. But, my days don’t start and stop at scheduled times. Monday, my day started at 6:45AM and ended at 9:30PM. Tuesday, I had a doctor appointment at 10:00AM. My day started before that and then continued afterward. I finished up Tuesday night with some testing we were doing in Lynchberg at about 12:30AM.

So, how much do I make per hour? It’s not enough to just divide my salary by 2,080 hours worked in a year. (40 hours per week for 52 weeks.) If I cannot determine my hourly rate, the cost/benefit analysis mentioned above makes no sense.

I’m pretty sure Bill Gates doesn’t keep office hours either.

Moral of the story? Free money is free money, not matter how much you earn.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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