Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Billion and Trillion Dollar numbers make us numb-er

Everyone is tossing around the words million, billion and trillion. In that strange intersection of economics and politics, there is a new fashion: Trillion is the new billion.

A billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion.

To provide some perspective on just how big a trillion dollars is, think about it like this: A trillion dollars is the number 1 followed by 12 zeroes. Or you can think of it this way: One trillion $1 bills stacked one on top of the other would reach nearly 68,000 miles (about 109,400 kilometers) into the sky, or about a third of the way from the Earth to the moon.

Americans have become desensitized to just how much money that is. "To put a trillion dollars in context, if you spend a million dollars every day since Jesus was born, you still wouldn't have spent a trillion," McConnell said.

"A million dollars a day for 2,000 years is only three-quarters of a trillion dollars,"adds Temple University math professor and author John Allen Paulos.

Here's another way to look at it.

"A million seconds is about 11½ days. A billion seconds is about 32 years, and a trillion seconds is 32,000 years," Paulos said. "People tend to lump them together, perhaps because they rhyme. But if you think of it in terms of a jail sentence, do you want to go to jail for 11½ days or 32 years or maybe 32,000 years? So, they're vastly different, and people generally don't really have a real visceral grasp of the differences among them."

Perhaps a better way to get a "grasp of the numbers," Paulos said, is to use them to describe the budgets of government programs.

"The [Environmental Protection Agency's], for example, annual budget is about $7.5 billion. So, a trillion dollars would fund the EPA in present dollars for 130 years -- more than a century. Or the National Science Foundation or National Cancer Institute have budgets of $5 or $6 billion. You could fund those for almost 200 years," he said.

1 comment:

Surviving Outdoors said...

Coming from the UK and having our economy ruined by the last Socialist government, they also tallied Millions and Billions about as though it makes no difference. I guess to everyday folk it really doesn't mean anything apart from when the next in power state that your childrens, children will be paying off this debt!

However personally I have always felt that the whole monetary system is totally unstable and this current World crisis just shows it.

Thanks for your blog.