You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What's a Trillion Dollars? (Give or Take a Few Billion)

We don't really do politics around here, except in the old vein that recognises that "every politician is a scoundrel looking for a cause." So, we haven't talked much about the impending Tory ascendancy in Britain, the U.S. stimuli, or various international coups and reorganizations (to use the Marxist form of the word "coup"). However, I'm struck by one specific in the discussion about the U.S. budget numbers.

The U.S. is now speaking of budget deficits over a trillion dollars. I'm not sure the average person can even begin to comprehend that amount of money, simply because it is as far from their daily bank balance as Calais is from Andromeda. Farther even, but I don't really know the names of many galaxies. I thought about making one up, but some geek from the International Astronomical Union would e-mail to infoirm me that it's been downgraded to a dwarf galaxy.

Anyway, a trillion of anything is big, or as PBS Kids might say "big, big." I thought it might be nice if someone provided some examples of just how big and vast we're talking about. Sure there are some rote visual approximations of what a trillion dollars might look like, but I think we need some examples that people can directly relate to.*

So, just how big is a trillion of anything?

  • The stars of Dancing with the Stars would need to dance until 3172 to complete a trillion dance steps. However, with repeats this will be completed sometime next year.
  • California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be completing his one trillionth arm curl sometime in the year 2047.
  • There are at least a trillion stars in the night sky that none of us can see, unless we can hack access to the Hubble telescope, and even then, there would be a trillion more we'd be unable to see with that.**
  • If Oprah Winfrey continues to do her television programme for another 50 years, she will have just about given away a trillion dollars in stuff people don't actually need.
  • Pauly Shore's films have received a trillion groans from underwhelmed audiences, or would have, had anyone gone to see them.
  • A trillion shoes would have kept former Phillipines first lady/first dictatoress Imedla Marcos occupied for nearly four years. If she collects shoes for another two decades, she will need a trillion shoe trees just to store them.
  • After a trillion years, you would have just about gotten through your twelth piece of Stride chewing gum.
  • A trillion dollars would just about meet the payroll of Chelsea Football Club for the next three years.
  • If a trillion insects set upon your back garden, they could easily devour your hyacinths in under a millionth of a second. However, your tulips and roses would last nearly a ten thousandth of a second longer.
  • The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas will get our one trillionth visitor approximately 50 billion years from now. There's a party planned, so keep that date open.

* This whole business is complicated by the fact that for many years outside of the U.S. one trillion U.S. would "one billion" to everyone else. In addition to being bloody confusing, non-Americans were wearing heck out of the "nought" keys on their typewriters.
** Trust me on this. The science is immensely complicated. It's like a trillion sciences.

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