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Apple’s cash hoard

$252 billion. That’s  more than the foreign-currency reserves of Britain and Canada. A quarter trillion dollars. Sound that out in your mind, and then say it with your mouth. The phrase “quarter trillion dollars” is 22 letters and six syllables, and I’m afraid it doesn’t quite do justice to the amount of capital involved. Modern speculative fiction has bleached our sense of scale. Honestly, what does a quarter trillion dollars even mean, when you’ve just gotten back from seeing the Last Jedi’s First Order Dreadnought?

Still: Quarter. Trillion. Dollars. Once you’re familiar with the words, try to conceive of how universally vast the amount is. Not in terms of what it will buy; for the moment, reckon with it as an abstract quantity, divorced of real purchasing power. Then, after a day or so of weighing this, if you’re so inclined, get down to the stupefying practice of understanding what a quarter trillion dollars will nab you. Forget the indefensible, obscene spectacle of anyone, or any private enterprise, having that much wealth in a supposedly free country or theoretically just world. Pretend you are not a human being, but a shark — the Devonian prototype for capitalistic excess, a creature of cartilage and thoughtless hunger.

With a quarter trillion dollars, you could have paid for a year of the Iraq War, and still had enough left over to fund universal preschool twice over. You could rebuild half of the entire U.S. highway system, or own the entire NFL. According to Redfin, the combined Walton Family has about $145.8 billion, and could buy every home in Seattle, with $30 billion left over. By contrast, Bill Gates could only buy Boston. But Apple could buy Boston and Seattle and have enough left over to snag Durham. Let’s go stranger: There are an estimated 7.6 billion of us superfriends on Earth. If you handed each and every one of us a dollar a day, it would still take a solid-gold month for you to run out of a quarter trillion. The 40-year earning total for an average American is $1.4 million. Whole lot of striving in that amount. Now consider: it would take 180,000 human lifetimes to build up Apple’s hoard.

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