We all want to make change in the world, but sometimes it's hard for us to understand how much it takes to buy it. This is a visualizer! How much does impact cost, and who is getting the most bang for their buck?

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$4000 to save a child from dying of malaria[1]

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3.5M is the most it takes to elect a state senator in the United States.[2]

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4M to fix healthcare.gov's login system, including making login 100x faster and decreasing annual maintenance costs from 70M to 1M.[3]

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9M to run the legal marijuana industry in Virginia. A legal adult-use marijuana industry is estimated to generate 140M to 274M in tax dollars annually.[4]

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~12M to pay Ruth Bader Ginsburg throughout her lifetime. Throughout her career as a lawyer, RBG argued landmark cases defining and advancing gender equality in the USA.[5][6]

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~14.5M to pass a bill to get the American government to stop subsidizing national student loans. This bill saves the government 400M annually.[7]

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25M to employ Russians to pretend to be Americans on social media, increasing national divisiveness in the months leading up to the 2016 election.[8]

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86.5M to purchase a building of micro-apartments to house homeless households in San Francisco - 120 single bed units, and 40 family units.[9]

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185M to avoid paying employment benefits for Californian Lyft and Uber drivers. This is the highest amount ever spent on a proposition.[10]

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370M to foster the rise of the conservative legal movement. The Olin Foundation has been a major player in American politics, funding projects that would form the cornerstone of 20th century right-wing politics such as the Federalist Society and the law and economics movement.[11]

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468B to build the entire US interstate system (2011 adjusted).[12] The interstate contributes $6 of economic value for every $1 spent.[13]

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825B to build and maintain water infrastructure in the USA from 1956 to 1970 (2017 adjusted). Higher water availability has given access to flush toilets, safer drinking water, firefighting services, and wastewater treatment to almost every American in the country.[14][15]

   

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Out of all the things on the list, which item created the largest change per dollar spent?

The Olin Foundation has spent 370M over 52 years to build movements that have forever changed American politics. Even now, conservative think tanks outspend all liberal organizations by 4X, working to reduce government regulation and social welfare. Progressive organizations, in contrast, tend to give towards direct support of people in need. The exact effectiveness of direct support is easier to calculate, but if progressives don't spend with a long term strategy like the Olin Foundation, they'll lose the war before they even realize they're fighting.

   

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Appendix

Recommended further reading on movement building:

Of course it's also possible to spend a lot of money and get nothing done. Well-researched examples include 200M spent on education in Newark and 64M (1979 dollars) spent in Lesotho on development. Overall, it seems to me that change is wrought by people who are highly effective, rather than by money or technology.[16]

Finally, you may be wondering why rich people and corporations are allowed to use so much money to control politics through lobbying. See this 2010 Supreme Court case removing spending limits.

made by Ruth Grace Wong

Thanks to Dan Wahl, Elizabeth Edwards for help with facts, and Aaron Gertler for feedback. All mistakes are my own. Inspired by https://neal.fun/deep-sea/ and https://mkorostoff.github.io/1-pixel-wealth/


  1. https://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities ↩︎

  2. https://www.kqed.org/news/10574253/the-cost-of-a-seat-california-legislators-raise-more-than-1000-a-day ↩︎

  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-secret-startup-saved-healthcare-gov-the-worst-website-in-america/397784/ ↩︎

  4. https://vadogwood.com/2020/12/04/why-so-high-more-than-half-the-cost-to-legalize-weed-in-va-goes-to-police-report-says/ ↩︎

  5. Cases argued: https://www.oyez.org/justices/ruth_bader_ginsburg ↩︎

  6. Note that this number is a rough estimate based on her tax returns and the fact that she worked from 1959 to 2020, with a maximum salary of 277,700. Supreme court salary Estimate for her net worth in 2019 (3-9M) ↩︎

  7. This is an estimate based on congressional salaries (535 congress people and 9000 congressional staff), assuming the bill was 5x harder to process than average. For my estimate, I only looked at the House and not the Senate ↩︎

  8. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=senatedocs ↩︎

  9. https://sfgov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5140615&GUID=591516DB-37D2-455E-AE7F-009A02797E75&Options=&Search= ↩︎

  10. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/08/tech/proposition-22-california/index.html ↩︎

  11. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/5/29/18629799/federalist-society-brett-kavanaugh-olin-foundation-jane-mayer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_M._Olin_Foundation ↩︎

  12. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2012/01/06/10930/top-10-u-s-government-investments-in-20th-century-american-competitiveness/ ↩︎

  13. https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/06/29/the-best-500-billion-the-united-states-has-ever-sp.aspx ↩︎

  14. https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/49910-infrastructure.pdf - supplemental data exhibit 17 https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/historic/sewage.html ↩︎

  15. from Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy, by Matt Stoller - "In the 1940s, 35% of Americans, including 80% of residents in Mississippi and over 70% of people in North Dakota didn't have flush toilets. By 1970, nearly everyone did" ↩︎

  16. See book Geek Heresy ↩︎

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Add entries I missed in the comments! What are changes in the world that you appreciate, and how much did they cost?

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