With recent budgets talking about funding in the trillions of dollars being tossed about, it seems that we have lost perspective on how much money that really is. To add some perspective for us mere mortals, those who cannot fathom a number with that many zeros behind it, I put together some comparisons to help put some reality to just how much money that is. Hopefully it will help us realize just what our leaders are doing when they propose budgets in the trillions as if it is not a big deal, just another day in Washington D.C.
To start with lets talk about a million dollars. While this used to be considered a lot of money in reality many people can attain this level of worth, or can have a real understanding of what it means. It is not theory to people. They can understand what a million dollars will buy. A nice house, cars, etc. A billion dollars is a thousand million dollars…already hard to fathom. A trillion dollars is a thousand billion..wow…the mind boggles. That is why I am trying to put these huge numbers into perspective. Let’s first show these numbers in the perspective of time. If you were to count one number per second it would take you 12 days to count to one million. That’s fairly easy to understand. Doing the same for one billion would take you 36.6 years…WOW, that is quite a difference. Now for the big one. To count to one trillion would take you 32,615.7 years. WHAT! If you went that far back in time the Earth 30,000 years ago was still deep in the grip of the latest Ice Age. There was no agriculture, everyone was still living hand to mouth. Civilizations as we know them did not exist. Writing did not exist either. That puts some real perspective on what one trillion dollars is compared to one million. It is truly mind boggling. Here is a plot that will also help.
In the chart above you can see that one million dollars being one one thousandth of a billion can hardly even be seen. If you were a billionaire you would think the mere millionaires were poor. Compared to billionaires they have nothing,
The plot above is the real kicker. Your eyes do not deceive you. One million dollars and one billion dollars do not even register as a blip compared to one trillion dollars. One trillion dollars totally dwarfs one billion dollars. This really helps put into perspective just how much money a trillion dollars is. Next lets have some more fun with numbers,
If you stacked the money flat, not end to end, one million dollars would be about 36 feet tall or 11 meters. Okay, I can see that, easy enough. A billion dollars would be 7 miles high or 11 kilometers. That is a big stack of money! A TRILLION dollars would be 6787 miles, or 11 thousand kilometers high! WOW! Now THAT is a stack of money.
Thinking about the proposed 3.5 trillion spending spree that is being put forth, that is a stack of dollars, laid flat, almost 24,000 miles high. That is enough to wrap around the earth’s equator, or go a tenth of the way to the moon! Now were talking real money. Does this all seem a little insane. Spending thousands of billions as if it were nothing. Has our government lost their collective minds….lets look at some of the previous budgets to add some perspective.
In 2000 President Clinton announced announce that the United States was on course to eliminate its public debt within the next decade. The Administration also announced that we are projected to pay down $237 billion in debt in 2000. Remember the good old days! In 2000 the national debt was 5.6 trillion.
To compare apples to apples we should look at the public debt as a function of gross domestic product.
As you can see the debt we are in now is about the same as WWII or 100% of GDP which is really scary. After WWII the debt was paid down. The current projection for our future debt has no such discipline. The trend is to NOT to pay it down but to let it grow. The current lack of fiscal discipline by our congress clearly shows unbridled spending. They spend without any real consideration for future generations. In 2040 we will have spending at 150% of the GDP. This is unprecedented and unsustainable. No country can survive with this level of debt. It should seem obvious but our current leaders do not seem to care. I hope this has helped put some perspective on just how much money a trillion dollars is, and how poorly our current leaders are managing OUR tax dollars.