The True Price of Building the World

The development of the atomic bomb cost $2 billion. You know what cost ten times more? Making a cab app, apparently. Uber has raised over $30 billion in funding to date. Granted, when you account for inflation between 1945 and 2023, the two sums are roughly equivalent, but still, the contrast is stark.

Whether Uber’s impact is positive is under constant debate, especially for its drivers. Riders, however, have undoubtedly benefitted off the mostly cheaper-than-taxis fares. In any case, it’s undoubtedly a far better tradeoff than the nuclear arms race which, since the Manhattan Project succeeded, has led to a whopping 12,000 nukes worldwide, most of them owned by the US and Russia, ready to hold the world hostage or outright destroy it at the owner’s convenience.

Of course, Uber is far from the only individual company requiring — and receiving — a larger budget than the atom bomb. From WeWork to AirBnB to SpaceX, OpenAI, and payment processor Stripe, plenty of humanity’s latest projects have spent far more money on far better outcomes. Others have done a wealth of good with much less, and others still have continued where Oppenheimer left off.

The dynamics make you think. It only costs $2 billion to blow up the planet, but a lot more to make it go round. At the same time, Facebook connected the world for $1.3 billion, a 20th of the inflation-adjusted cost. We can spend our money for better or worse, and it adds up quicker than we think. If we put it where our mouths are, that’s a good start, but then we must also make sure we’re talking about the right things — and perhaps most of all, not past each other.

The war that took over after the first a-bomb dropped may have been cold, but real-world explosions are not, and I think we’d all rather scroll through Facebook on our phones while sitting in an Uber on the way to WeWork than worry about whether the world might end tomorrow. Let’s make sure we appreciate the latter, no matter how mundane it sometimes feels, before we get lost in the former. The true price of building the world is not how much it costs, but remembering we — our family, our country, our generation — are not the only ones in it.