Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's in a trillion...?

I ran across this post where the author was discussing how to comprehend one trillion of anything. I found it somewhat interesting and decided to ruminate on it a bit. The number of a trillion is so large that it's almost incomprehensible. In the post he writes:

One trillion seconds ago anatomically modern humans were successfuly competing with the last bands of neandertals in ice age Europe; One-trillion minutes ago there were no modern humans at all and fire was still a million years in our hominid ancestors' future; One-trillion hours ago our direct ancestors were rat-like nocturnal insectivores hiding in cozy daytime burrows from allosaurs and raptors; One-trillion days ago there were no animals at all, but bacterial collectives had begun working together in communities that that would one day be called protozoa. And one-trillion years ago ... well there was no one trillion years ago as that would predate the observed beginning of time and space many times over.
So, I started doing a little math (yeah, I had time on my hands this morning) and 1 trillion seconds equals 31,546 years. One trillion hours is 277,777,778 years. That's a huge amount of time coming out of what seems to be a very commonly used number these days. Our government is tossing out budget and expenditure numbers in the trillions and we're just supposed to shrug it off like it's a typical ATM withdrawal. The politicians seem to think that we should easily be able to comprehend that kind of number but there's nothing to compare such a number to other than interstellar travel and that's not always comprehensible either. The current US national debt is $9.58 trillion dollars. So, if everyone in the US right now gave $1 a day to towards the deficit, and both the deficit and population remained at their current levels, it would take 86 years to pay it off. The problem is that the deficit is growing at a rate of $1.88 billion dollars a day so we'd have to put forth a lot more than $1 a day.

I suppose I need a point here, and that point is that we're in such a deep hole now I can't see how we could ever get out of it. Certainly not in my lifetime. Maybe the government needs to put these trillion dollar numbers into terms that are more human-scaled, but I also can't see that happening in my lifetime.

1 comment:

Chris said...

And to think, President Clinton left George W. Bush a +/- $123 BILLION budget SURPLUS to which Bush has squandered into a multi-trillion dollar deficit.

and Republicans say Democrats are irresponsible? Republicans will say it's because of the war, but war in was a choice which did not need to have been done. So it is the fault of this Republican Administration and of no one else.

and I know I'm preaching to the choir.