Humphrey Yang is a 32-year-old e-commerce consultant in San Francisco who makes financial literacy videos on TikTok — and not a teen, as some viral tweets have understandably mistakenly identified him.
Yang's TikTok showing what $100,000, $1 million, and $1 billion look like in grains of rice has caused all kinds of reactions and sociopolitical discussions online, even though he said he never intended his video to have any specific commentary.
"I wanted to present the information the best I could without putting a spin on it; other people can put their spin on it," he said. "But I realize now after I posted the video that a ton of the comments — I’d say 80% of the comments — are saying that wealth is such an inequality, no one should have that much money, and 'we’re out here struggling for half a grain of rice, which is 50K.'"
"That's what's sparking it."
And what continued to spark visceral and politically charged commentary was the second part to Yang's video: another TikTok that then compared what $1 billion looked like in grains of rice to the reported net worth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, which was $122 billion at the time Yang googled it on Thursday.
(Bezos's reported net worth dropped by a little under $1 billion on Friday, but who's counting?)
In the two TikToks, Yang used a single grain of rice to visually represent $100,000. So, for $1 million, he placed 10 grains. A billion dollars then amounted to 10,000 grains of rice.
And yes — he counted those grains one by one, he said.
"It took me a couple hours to do that. Once I had that pile, I knew exactly how much it weighed," he said. "After that, I did basic math to estimate how many pounds of rice I would need to estimate 122 billion."
And voilà, 58 pounds of rice. The visual demonstration of it all is totally stunning. And Yang even roughly calculated what his home reportedly costs using his same rice scale.
Yang told BuzzFeed News he keeps a running doc of ideas around financial literacy he wants to make into TikToks, and this one was just of many ideas he story-boarded.
The TikTok seems to have gone viral beyond the simple comprehension of what copious amounts of capital could look like, striking a really personal chord with a vast majority of people who do not have $1 million or even $100,000.
"I don't even have 1 grain of rice," a commenter wrote on TikTok.
The TikTok became a vehicle for discussing some of the most contentious issues that are being debated as the US heads into the 2020 presidential election.
A tweet calling it "a really good representation" of comparing the estimated wealth of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg has gone hugely viral.
"Honestly this represents everything that is wrong with our world" and "TAX THE RICH!!" are the most common comments flooding Yang's TikTok account.
When asked about his own opinions on the matter, Yang said he's trying "not to take sides... I don’t want to say something I would regret later."
However, he does believe that something systemically should be addressed.
"In terms of wealth some people have on others, I don't know if I’d blame the person. If you create Amazon, you’re going to have a ton of wealth," he said. "I’d direct the reason toward the system itself — capitalism itself."