My mother presided over the aesthetic and moral aspects of my young life, much as my father dominated its material and practical aspects. Like Dad, Mom came of age during The Great Depression. She was a librarian and a Christian. Words, particularly those of a fundamentally Judeo-Christian god, were her major contributions to my understandings of the world.
I was a middleclass child of the relentlessly prosperous ‘50s and ‘60s. Unlike my parents, I grew up assuming that an economically comfortable, secure life of buying power awaited me so long as I got a good education, worked diligently at whatever profession I chose, and tithed weekly to show God and fellow humans my gratitude for abundance. So, for me, the most meaningful way to comprehend 6 billion dollars is to ask, “What could it buy?”
Using the Dad side of my brain, I think in terms of paying off—buying back—my mortgage. Dad would probably encourage me to think also in terms of buying a new car. My little vehicle from 2002 needs a new transmission, which would likely cost more than the car would be worth afterwards.
The outstanding balance on my mortgage is around $60,000. Even I can do the math in this case: with $6,000,000,000, I could buy back my mortgage 100,000 times, which seems a bit excessive. The average price of a new car bought in the US now stands at about $28,400. Six billion dollars could buy me a fleet of 210,000 new cars, which also strikes me as somewhat more than I need or could afford to insure and maintain.
At this point, the Mom side of my brain suggests that I extend my thinking to the buying power of billions if shared with fellow citizens. I’ve concluded that $6 billion is more than a tempest in a teapot, unless the teapot belongs to someone like Jamie Dimon, whose reported earnings ran to $29 million last year.
Here are some things $6 billion could buy:
ü If JPMC wanted to be a good corporate citizen according to current thinking about corporate social responsibility (i.e., a corporation’s primary ethical obligation is to maximize profit for shareholders), it could use $6 billion to double its most recently announced stock dividend.
ü Alternatively, JPMC might decide to reward its own employees, reasoning that healthy, happy employees provide better service to customers, and well-served customers ultimately result in more profit to shareholders. JPMC employs about 225,000 people worldwide. Approximately 70% of them are non-officers (tellers, customer service reps, etc.). With $6 billion, JMPC could award each of its non-officer employees a $38,000 bonus. FYI: the average pay of a JPMC teller is about $11 an hour, which amounts to less than $23,000 a year.
Moving beyond JPMC’s own backyard, $6 billion offers many intriguing possibilities that might be considered investments in the world’s future, from which JPMC might eventually profit. A few examples–
ü As of July 2011, approximately 1,050,000 homes in the US were in foreclosure. $6 billion could provide about $5700 to each distressed mortgage owner.
ü Almost 5000 active-duty military service members currently face foreclosure. $6 billion could give each of these soldiers $1,200,000 to pay off his/her own mortgage and those of family members. Perhaps JPMC could partner with the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a follow-up study tracking the effects such grants have on the incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder among soldiers returning to civilian life.
ü $6 billion could enable JPMC to give a graduation gift of $3370 to each of the 1,781,000 students in the US expected to graduate from a bachelor’s program this year. About 60% of college students in the US use debt to help finance their educations. The average debt among students in the US who used loans to finance college now tops $25,000.
ü $6 billion could provide each child of an extremely poor, single-parent family in the US with an additional $1622. Over 7 million children in the US live in extreme poverty (defined as living in a family making less than 50% of the official US poverty income). Half of these children live in single-parent households.