Sunday, December 30, 2007

What would you do with 30 billion dollars?

One of the joys of pleasure reading is the ability to let mental connections happen freely. For instance, I finally got around to reading “Freakonomics” a few weeks back, and now that I’ve picked up “Your Brain on Music,” associations present themselves within the first pages of the introduction. Here’s what caught my eye: on page 7, Daniel Levitin makes an offhand remark that Album sales bring in around $30 billion a year, later remarking that 30 billion some songs were downloaded free through peer-to-peer networks in 2005.

Of course, unlike Leavitt in “Freakonomics,” I’ve no head for math, and no interest in any sort of correlation between these two numbers. Anyway, estimating things in the billions makes for a hell of a lot of rounding so analyzing any data like this is a job left to those who enjoy that sort of thing, not somebody who recently had a standardized test inform him that maybe he shouldn’t go into a field where he would be required to add, or count, for that matter.

Naturally, big numbers are impressive, so to my untrained mind for math, the first thought, is of course, that 30 billion is a fucking lot. When the $30 billion that those record sales brought in is broken down into who gets what, I’m sure the numbers are less impressive. Maybe they’d be more impressive if the iTunes buck-a-song idea were affixed to the 30 billion songs shared through P2P networks, but for some reason, record executives aren’t exactly painted as po’ folk, especially to a guy trying to make the rent.

In short, everybody could have made twice the money from record sales, but didn’t, and the media (aside from record company flackery) is making no effort to imply that these people need the dough. So you’ve got $30 billion coming in from record sales, and if the buck-a-song idea is affixed to the illegal side, another $30 billion that could be floating around.

Where could it go?

Heifer International is a wonderful charity that works to end hunger and help out the planet itself by allowing folks to purchase animals or shares of animals to be sent to those who could most use them. I’ve always had a soft spot for the organization, so it seems like a good enough place to start. Giving a llama, for instance, costs $150, keeping the math at a level that I can deal with, $30 billion would get you 200 million llamas. That $30 billion could have given each person in Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Bolivia and Belize their very own llama.

So you’re not into llamas; that’s fine, the goons at Something Awful just recently did a charity drive concerned with giving bees through Heifer, 12,500 bees for $30. I’m going to keep the zeroes on this, because it’s worth all the zeroes: 12,500,000,000,000 bees. In the movie “My Girl,” that would be enough to kill Macaulay Culkin about one trillion times.

Say we did something more illicit with the money; a June 28, 2007 article in the Economist listed the typical retail price of a gram of cocaine in the US at around $100. So, there’s a good 300,000 kilos of coke that could be bought. Granted, at the time of publication, the average retail price in Columbia was just $2 a gram, so if we were buying it there, we could afford to be generous. Even after giving every Columbian a llama, we could still buy 11,695,416.5 kilos of cocaine. Keep in mind, that’s with the retail, not wholesale price.

Maybe you’d rather spend that $30 billion domestically, so let’s see what kind of government projects we could fund. Looking at the 2008 federal budget we could match the budget for all branches of the National Institute of Health, as well as throwing in the Department of Renewable Energy (28.7 billion and 1.236 billion accordingly). We could combine the budget for the United States Postal Service at 3.722 billion and the procurement budget for the Army at 24.253 billion and arm the Postal Service better than the Army. Or, here’s a fun one, we could more than match what the US government pays toward higher education.

Americans spend more money on music than on sex or prescription drugs. In 2005, the music we pirated theoretically could have saved us $30 billion.

So where the fuck did it go?