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$1 Trillion in Context

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Upwards of $1 trillion. That's what kind of commitment the Treasury Department is making with its plan to buy up the bad mortgage loans that are throttling the U.S. economy. The bailout plan as written calls for $700 billion, but no one really knows how much the questionable loans add up to, so it could reach $1 trillion. A trillion. That's a one with 12 zeros after it.

Numbers like that don't even make sense to the average American consumer. How can someone earning $100,000 put that into perspective? Well, if you saved $100,000 per year without benefit of earning interest, you'd have to save for 10 million years to be a trillionaire.What are some other ways to think about a trillion? Well, try these on for size:

  • No matter how long you think your day has been, it's still made up of 86,400 seconds. In a mere 31,546 years (allowing for the fact a day isn't exactly 24 hours)--that's 11,522,176 days--you will have lived for roughly 1 trillion seconds. Get back to us on that whole climate change thing.
  • A $1 bill is roughly six inches across. It would take 10,560 of them to stretch one mile. The circumference of the Earth is roughly 24,902 miles. A trillion $1 bills would circle the Earth not quite 3,803 times.
  • If our government felt like spreading that $1 trillion around to every citizen of the U.S., all 300 million of us would get $3,333.33, with a little left over for a barbecue.
  • A Population Reference Bureau survey estimated in 2002 that the all-time world population was 109 billion. That means everyone who has ever lived could have almost $10 if the $1 trillion were split up evenly.
  • Need a way to keep your children busy? Ask them to count to 1 million. Have them do that 1 million times, and they will have counted to 1 trillion.
  • The land mass of Los Angeles is 469 square miles, or 156,899,635,200 square inches. One trillion $1 bills would cover L.A. 95 times.
  • If stacked, a trillion dollar bills would reach a height of roughly 65,000 miles--a little more, a little less depending on the wear and tear of the bills. For reference, the farthest the moon ever gets from us is 252,088 miles.

If you're reading this, chances are you'll never be faced with any sort of economic indicator that reaches beyond the trillions, but in case you're interested, the number after 999,999,999,999,999 is 1 quadrillion--15 zeros and a whole lot of people wondering who makes this stuff up.

Mike Werling, the managing editor of Sea Magazine, has written for Entrepreneur.com, Senior Market Advisor, Boomer Market Advisor and Broadmoor magazines.

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