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What's a Trillion Anyway?

Comment

Today in Washington, President Obama and Congress are on a collision course over how to reduce the national debt, which just blew by a staggering $16.4 trillion. Or to better illustrate that figure, $16,400,000,000,000 — almost as many zeros as my college transcript.

I could bore you by talking about the national debt in terms of a percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) or the ratio of discretionary versus nondiscretionary spending. We could get into the actuary tables of Social Security and Medicare and when those programs will bankrupt our country. Besides, who wants that kind of heavy thinking with their morning coffee?

But when politicians go through billions of dollars faster than Lady Gaga goes through pointy lingerie, how can we expect the average citizen to appreciate the magnitude of what a trillion dollars actually represents. Heck, the only numbers most Americans understand involve football scores and lottery tickets. Most citizens even dismiss the fact that the national debt represents over $52,000 for each man, woman and child in America.

Sometimes the best way to look at something is to show what it is not. For instance, 1 trillion is not the cans of hairspray Donald Trump uses in a year. Nor is it the number of magazines Kim Kardashian has appeared on. It's also not the number of plastic surgeries Joan Rivers has undergone, although the jury is still out on the vials of Botox.

In order to have more Americans pay attention to what is happening in Washington, we need to put trillions into terms the average person can understand. I could tell you that 1 trillion equals 1 million million but even that number is hard to comprehend. Let's try this, McDonald's serves about 1.2 billion burgers a year, but in order to reach a trillion, every person in the United States would have to eat over 3,000 burgers apiece.

That's fine if you're Ronald McDonald or an NFL lineman, but not so good if you're watching your cholesterol.

Since we're talking about money, at 6 foot 4, 1 trillion Abe Lincolns would stretch 1.14 billion miles, which is a long way from Gettysburg — and that doesn't include his stovepipe hat. By contrast, if the Abe Lincoln statue were standing up in the Lincoln Memorial, it would only take 215 billion of the statues to reach that same distance.

NFL great Brett Favre threw for over 71,000 yards during his career. At that pace, we would only need 14 million more Brett Favres to equal 1 trillion yards. That's a lot of cleats, jerseys and burned defensive backs.

Elvis has sold over a billion records and doesn't show any signs of slowing down — pretty good for a guy who's supposed to be dead. At this pace, the world would need 1,000 Elvises and a lot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches to reach 1 trillion records. That's plausible because there are at least that many Elvises on the Vegas strip alone.

You've heard that if all the economists were laid end to end they would never reach a conclusion. Well, 1 trillion economists end to end would rocket past Saturn.

Most know that trillions follow billions, but what's next? I could act like I have a big brain and casually mention that quadrillion comes after trillion followed by quintillion, but without Google I wouldn't have had a clue. However, during my research I did learn that Brazilian, cotillion and gazillion are not actual numbers.

With another debt ceiling battle looming, let's just hope that Congress doesn't log on to the Internet and discover that there are numbers actually larger than trillions.

Dear Mark is a public platform for your enrichment and entertainment. E-mail your questions to marklevy92@aol.com. To find out more about Mark Levy, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM



Comments

1 Comments | Post Comment
Thanks for the math lesson, but will educating the public work at this point? Will it take anything less than a collapse to make things change? Or, like a drug addict, do we need to hit rock bottom before our leaders can make the change?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:14 AM
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