Getting a Grasp on a Trillion Dollars

Almost overnight, government spending has moved from billions to trillions, but it’s difficult to really understand how incredibly large those numbers are.  My old aunt thought her successful son was a billionaire when he acquired his second million.  There was no convincing her that you needed 1000 million dollars to make a billion, not just two.  Similarly, most people outside of engineering and math can’t really grasp the idea that changing an “M” to a “B” to a “Tr” can make a million-fold difference (and there we are dealing with millions again!)

So with a little help from Google and Wikipedia, I came up with some descriptions about how much a trillion dollars really is.

  • The largest denomination bill that is currently printed by the US Treasury is $100. One trillion dollars in $100 bills would weigh over 11,000 tons.
  • To carry away a trillion dollars in $100 bills would require a caravan of 500 tractor trailers, stretching over six miles.
  • A trillion dollars worth of $100 bills placed end to end would reach the Moon. And back. Twice.
  • A million dollar stack of $100 bills would be 4 feet tall. A trillion dollar stack of $100 bills would be 770 miles high. That’s more than 3 times higher than the ISS Space Station orbits the Earth.
  • In pennies, a trillion dollars would weigh 275 million tons. If pennies were still made from copper, it would consume the entire USA copper production for the next 233 years just to make the coins.
  • A trillion dollars worth of 1 carat “D” flawless diamonds would require a bucket large enough to hold 36 million of them. That bucket of diamonds would weigh more than 15,000 pounds.
  • A trillion dollars of gold would weigh 35,000 tons. That would be equivalent to a fleet of 20,000 Ford Mustangs made out of solid gold.
  • A trillion dollars of silver would weigh 5.5 billion pounds, or more than the weight of seven Empire State buildings. At current worldwide production levels, it would take over 80 years to accumulate that much silver.
  • One trillion dollars would cost every American $3276.68 if the cost were spread equally among all residents. That’s $8619.87 per household.
  • One trillion dollars exceeds the entire Gross Domestic Product of Mexico or Australia.
  • One trillion dollars exceeds the entire Gross Domestic Product of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Switzerland, combined.
  • One trillion dollars would buy every person on the planet 58 slices of Famous Original Ray’s pizza. Use a coupon at Domino’s and everyone from Brooklyn to Mumbai would get 120 slices (15 pizzas). It would take over 1600 of the largest cargo ships to hold them all.

So you see, it’s not really that hard to get a grasp on what a trillion dollars really is.  Now we need to deal with a government where yearly deficits run into the trillions, and our total debt is in the tens of trillions.

But look at the bright side.  After trillions come quadrillions, and at the rate we’re going, we won’t have to deal with quadrillions of dollars for at least 900 years.