Saturday, September 20, 2008

How Much Is $1,000,000,000,000 Anyway?

Today's news is that, combined with other bailouts, taxpayer cost of the proposed latest effort to stem the meltdown may top one trillion dollars.

That's One Trillion Dollars.

How much is this, really? A trillion dollars is about one-third of the entire federal budget recently proposed by G.W. Bush. A trillion seconds ago, which is 31,688 years, the Neanderthals were in charge. A trillion days would take 2.7 billion years. According to NPR, "$1 trillion would be enough money to buy about a 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for every person in the United States." A cube of one trillion dried peas would be 198 feet along each edge. A trillion pennies would weigh 3.1 million tons. A trillion dollars is roughly the cost of the war in Iraq thus far.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem like all that much. The combined wealth of all the world's billionaires is just $3.5 trillion. A trillion is just 1/18th of the gross national product for the entire world. Google says there are about a trillion URLs on the internet. The US deficit is already $8 trillion, so what's a trillion more?

My favorite visual comes from The NYT's Bob Herbert.
It's not easy to explain just how much money $1 trillion really is. Imagine a stack of bills worth $1 million that is roughly six inches high. (Think big denominations — a mix of $100 bills and $1,000 bills, mostly $1,000's.) If the six-inch stack were enlarged to the point where it was worth $1 billion, it would be as tall as the Washington Monument, about 500 feet. If it were worth $1 trillion, the stack would be 95 miles high.
A trillion dollars. That's a lot.


Dr. Wes Browning said...

Another way to look at it: According to the IRS, the (reported) total adjusted gross annual income of all Americans is currently around 6.8 trillion dollars. Meaning it takes all working Americans, rich and poor, working together, more than 7 weeks to make a trillion dollars, that they'll admit to.

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