1 000 000 000 000

How much is a trillion? Jim asks in relation to the proposed U.S. deficits in the next few years. (Jim is one of my favourite economists, or should I say professor.) The short (and pedantic) answer would be the title of this post. Another is a million million. Jim’s may be better (for Americans, at least):

A trillion dollars is about the total amount collected in income taxes by the U.S. federal government in fiscal year 2006– $1.04 trillion, if you’re curious to use the exact number. That gives me a simple rule of thumb for personalizing these numbers. If I want to know what an additional trillion dollars in government borrowing or spending will mean for me, I just imagine what it would be like to pay twice as much in federal income taxes for one year.

The comments on Jim’s Econbrowser yields other amusing ways to imagine a trillion:

A billion dollars is a stack of $1000 dollar bills 358 feet high. A trillion dollars is a stack of $1000 bills 67.9 miles high!

Another way to look at it is that a business that was started on the day Jesus was born, and lost one million dollars EVERY single day since then, would still not have lost $1 trillion.

If you earned 1 dollar for every second you would have:
$1 million after 2 months
$1 billion after 32 years
$1 trillion after 32 000 years. 32 thousand years!

Here’s an appropriate quote from physicist Richard Feynman: “There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”

To be sure, the comments has a lot of interesting content as well.


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