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DISCLAIMER: Do not try any of this at home. The author of this book is an internet cartoonist, not a health or safety expert. He likes it when things catch fire or explode, which means he does not have your best interests in mind. The publisher and the author disclaim any responsibility for any adverse effects reulting, directly or indirectly, from information contained in this book.
A little extra for those sciency or geeky people out there like me.
If you’re interested, here’s one of my favourite what if?’s Randall Munroe has done.
All the Money
People sometimes say “If I had all the money in the world …” in order to discuss what they would do if they had no financial constraints. I’m curious, though, what would happen if one person had all of the world’s money?
So you’ve somehow found a way to gather all the world’s money. We won’t worry about how you did it—let’s just assume you invented some kind of money-summoning magic spell.
Physical currency—coins and bills—represents just a small percentage of the world’s wealth. In theory, you could edit all the property records on Earth to say that you own all the land and edit all the banking records to say you own all the money. But everyone else would disagree with those records, and they would edit them back or ignore them. Money is an idea, and you can’t make the entire world respect your idea.
Getting all the world’s cash, on the other hand, is much more straightforward. There’s a certain amount of cash in the world—it’s about $4 trillion—and you want it all.
It won’t necessarily do anything for you, since—without the cooperation of the outside world—you probably won’t be able to spend it. But maybe you can swim around in it, like Scrooge McDuck in his giant room full of gold.
So you cast your magic spell and summon all the money.
The pile of cash is the size of the Empire State Building, but heavier. You probably don’t want to be standing under it, so let’s assume you’re standing over here, off to the side:
The vast majority of the weight in the pile is coins, and the biggest single contributor is the US penny. Despite periodic efforts to kill off the penny, the US Mint keeps producing more of them.
There are probably 150 billion pennies currently in circulation, for a total weight of over 300,000 tons. In total, US coins and bills are responsible for about 30% of the pile’s weight, while the European Union—which has barely been minting coins for a decade—contributes 15%.
Unfortunately for you, the pile doesn’t stay a pile for long, and what seems like a safe distance isn’t so safe.
In 1919, a tank of molasses in Boston collapsed. Molasses is thick, so you might think it would flow out slowly, but it didn’t. The wave of molasses swept down the streets too fast to outrun, demolishing buildings and killing 21 people.
Something similar happens with the pile of coins. As it collapses, the pile spreads outward, a wave of money carrying a staggering amount of momentum. The pennies, quarters, loonies, and euros scour the landscape in an expanding ring. Within seconds, the wave of coins engulfs you and you die.
There are ways to avoid this. You could, say, build a wall around the coins to contain them. Unfortunately, then you might face a problem worse than death:
Building code violations.
Heavy skyscrapers need ground strong enough to support them. Places with large skyscrapers, like those in Manhattan, need bedrock sturdy enough to hold them up. A search through this giant PDF of NYC building codes suggests that if we went ahead with this plan, we would be in serious danger of violating section 1804 (“ALLOWABLE BEARING PRESSURES”).
Which makes me wonder: Did Scrooge McDuck ever have to worry about this stuff?