Myth Makers January 4, 2018

How Much Is $4.4 Trillion?

The size of the proposed US federal budget for 2018

The only thing Americans like more than big is bigger. Nowhere is that more evident than the way politicians talk about budgets. $1,000,000,000 is too small a number, one billion sounds puny. Half a trillion also sounds small. So, they find a bigger number by spreading the budget over 10 years. Now we talking. X times 10 years and bingo.

But how much is one trillion US dollars? A 1 followed by 12 zeroes. But what does it look like?

If you spend one dollar a second, it would take 12 days to spend a million, 31.7 years to spend a billion and an unfathomable 31,700 years to spend a trillion.

Another way to see a trillion is the way Boyce Rensberger of The Washington Post did years ago. He said if you were paid one dollar to read every non-advertising word in the daily newspaper, you could bank $29.2 million a year. You would have to engage generations of grandchildren and keep the reading streak going for 34,247 years to pocket a trillion.

If you stacked one-dollar bills in a 50-foot-long railroad boxcar you could put $63.5 million in each car. A train carrying one trillion dollars would have 15,743 boxcars and span 167 miles, the distance from the Nation’s Capital in Washington, DC, past Philadelphia—as the eagle flies.

If you are still reading and shaking your head, 4.7 trillion would take 73,980 boxcars and cover over 784 miles, the distance from Brussels to Rome or Barcelona to Frankford or Cape Town to Pretoria. If you started in Miami you would need to stop just short of Nashville, Tennessee, and need to wait for an infusion from next year’s budget.

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