Here’s something to take your mind off the price of gasoline.

According to an AP article today, Forbes released it’s list of the 400 Richest Americans. Topping the list again was Bill Gates at number one, and Warren Buffett trying harder at second.

Gates’ total worth was $51 billion. Buffett came in at a neat $40 billion.

The article made a big deal about the founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, moving up the list to a 16th place tie at $11b each. They were down near 43rd place last year with a paltry $4b each.

But the more I read, the more I realised that while we get lost in the ranking, the amounts turn into just numbers and lose their meaning. I realised that the difference between Gates and Buffet was as much as Sergey and Larry had all together. Bill gates could buy 16th place on that list just by giving someone a fifth of his wealth!

In fact, a mere Billion is more than enough to get you into the top 400 list. $2.5 billion gets you well into the top 100. That’s where Robert E. Rich Sr., the highest ranked Western New Yorker sits at #93.

Now, I know Bill Gates probably doesn’t have billions sitting around in cash. I know that because he’s smarter than that and didn’t get rich by hoarding his money in the first place. But, just what is having a billion dollars like? I can sort of imagine a million. That’s no longer out of reach for the average person. Most of us will make (and spend) a few million in our lifetimes. For many a million comes and goes in less than ten years. I could be in that group if I wanted to work every bit of overtime and I’m not even a big businessman.

But a billion is a thousand million. If I had a million every year of my life to spend, I wouldn’t make it a tenth of the way to billionaire. I could spend a million, I suppose. The IRS would make sure I had their help in erasing it. I suppose I could even get used to doing it every year. But after a while, you can’t just use it all up. You have to invest it. Of course, that’s how all of those on the Forbes list got there. But by then, it’s not money anymore, it’s just numbers. It’s all on paper. And frankly, to me doesn’t mean much. I’m more interested in what people do than how much money they have. That’s why it’s so surreal that Gates has such a wide margin over Buffet, yet is still only one ahead of him on the list. Doesn’t seem like much competition at the top. It just seems like such an empty way to measure people.