How Much is a Trillion Dollars?

Sorry, I’ve been ranting about the money issue forever. But currently, the quantity “a trillion dollars” keeps getting thrown around as if people understand the magnitude of the number. Let’s see if we can gain insight together. (I’ve just ground out the numbers, and I can’t believe the results…) Suppose we were to lay one trillion dollar bills on each other and see just how high the stack goes…

The rascal below is my digital caliper measuring the thickness of a dollar bill. It’s coming up with a thickness of 0.0045 inches. (In fact, a dollar bill is supposed to be around .0043 inches thick, but whatever.)

Dollar bill thickness

The point being that a dollar is around four one thousandths of an inch thick. Now, imagine laying that single dollar bill nice and flat on your living room floor and then carefully laying another on top of it… Wait! Wait! Wait! That won’t work – the stack will be too tall. So instead take the dollar bill out on your deck, and again lay it flat and rest another on top of it… No… That won’t work either – your deck would never be able to hold the weight. Alright, put the dollar on a nice flat piece of earth and cover it with another, and then another, and then another… Do that a trillion times creating a tall stack of money. But how tall? Well, here’s the math. (Please Lawd, find a mistake in my math!)

  • A trillion is 1×10^12 (That’s one times ten raised to the twelfth power.)
  • 0.004″ is the same as 4×10^-3 inches.
  • So the pile would be this high: (1×10^12)x(4×10^-3)=4*10^9 inches. Read that 4,000,000,000 inches high.
  • Since there are 12″ in a foot, we have to divide 4*10^9 inches by 12 to get the height of the stack of bills in feet… That numbr is 333,333,333′. Sounds like a tall stack… How many miles is that ?
  • There are 5,280 feet in a mile. So, if I divide  333,333,333 feet by 5,280 I’ll get the height of the stack in miles… And that number is 63,131 miles. (This agrees in magnitude with the link above.)

I told you that we’d have to work through this together…

Well now! There you are in your back yard with a stack of dollar bills roughly 60,000 miles high. How high is that? Let’s see… The International Space Station orbits at 220 miles, and the moon is 240,000 miles away, so your little green monolith would soar past the ISS and stretch one quarter of the way to the moon. But that’s only one trillion dollars…

Next, imagine a $50 trillion stack. (That’s roughly where we are in national debt and obligations.) Some basic math shows that that grows our tower to 3,000,000 miles high. Gee look… I can barely see the moon in the rear view mirror! (Seriously… I’m begging you… Someone check my math and show me where I’m wrong…) A $50 trillion column would be long enough to wrap around the earth 120 times.

There… Now you have a sense of just how huge a trillion is. MREs anyone?

Alan Speakman

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17 Responses to How Much is a Trillion Dollars?

  1. BDO says:

    Yeah, but consumers owe almost $14 trillion which is more than the national deficit. So, who has the bigger problem with spending? Why don’t we learn to be better stewards of our money and then we might have a leg to stand on to judge others ability to manage their money?

    • Alan Speakman says:

      Hi BDO,

      Thanks for your comment… But you really should see my post on “how much is a trillion dollars”. In it is a link to a video showing former U.S. Comptroller (the country’s top accountant) David Walker who quit because of our government’s inability to face our total deficit… $62 trillion. The government keeps three or four different books concerning surplus and debt. The one that you speak of, the rising monster that is social/medicare/medicaid/reserve that no one dares speak of, and one for disaster funds. Right now (at best) we are $62 trillion in the hole with that amount rocketing skyward. (Some estimates are that we may actually be $99.2 trillion in the red.) But for sanity’s sake let’s just call it $50 trillion. Next… Consider our GDP: $12 – $14 trillion. That means that our country owes roughly four times as much as it makes in a year. By analogy, it would mean that if you make $40k/year you owe $160k on your credit card. And that is not what the typical American owes. What’s even worse is the net value of this country. If ET landed tomorrow and wanted to buy all the U.S. stuff the government could sell (parks, buildings, property, Fort Knox, etc.) him, we’re only worth about $40 trillion. (Google on “national worth”… Fascinating reading) The situation is so bad that when “Turbo Tax” Tim G. went to China with hat in hand, and tried to convince a bunch of students that the U.S. economy is basically sound, they laughed at him. We’re struggling just to keep up paying the interest. By 2040, we will lose that fight, and even if we eliminate the entire military budget, we still won’t be able to pay the budget. Doubt it? Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-16u9x3tfE

      Sorry BDO, but the debt of individual Americans ain’t nothing compared to what our government has done. And facts be told, more than one spending bill has been passed without anyone even reading them.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • BDO says:

        Thank you for replying back so quickly. I do know about the Comptroller General resigning. However, I have a different POV on the cause and solution.

        If we, as citizens, cannot balance our own budget and rack up almost $14 trillion, how can we poke the eye ball of other citizens, who are sent to DC as “representatives” of us? These representatives are doing what we do. We think nothing of spending $100Gs for a mortgage, which is deemed necessary, on a minimal income of $40k a year. In the same fashion, they don’t think anything of spending $1T, which is deemed necessary, on an income of $12T for the nation.

        We when as citizens learn to balance our budgets, I am sure we will start hiring representatives to balance the nation’s budget. Until then, representatives will represent their constituents, since “taking on debt is a normal part of American life”.

        The ET is example is good, but as we know ET does not exist. We will never find enough people to buy all our “assets”. No matter if those “assets” are cars, mortgages, or National Parks. The problem of adding everyone’s assets and saying we do or do not have enough wealth assumes we find a buyer for all that stuff. We would never find enough buyers to buy all that stuff…so…

        The housing crisis happened. Too many sellers for not too many buyers. The price goes down. And all that wealth we added together starts going down tremendously fast. But the debt does not.

        The housing crisis was a consumer problem, not a national government problem. However, the national government is trying to spend its credit limit to fix it all. But who cares?

        The problem is with us, as citizens. We need to understand the destructive effects of debt, or we will continue to hire “representatives” that will continue to spend money and take on more debt.

      • Hi BDO,

        But here’s the rub… Your analogy is incomplete…

        When I have an income of $40k and buy a house worth $100k, that’s a ratio of 1:2.5. If I have a credit card debt of $10k (25% of my yearly income) things get ugly.

        For the house that is our country, we have a yearly income of $12 trillion, our nation’s house is practically worth somewhere $100 trillion*, and that’s a ratio of 1:8. BUT, out national credit card debt is $50 trillion (400% of our yearly income. David Walker speaks at great length about this.)

        So, with the analogy straight we have to face a couple of uncomfortable facts… We can’t sell the country like we can our house, so that number is swept off the table. So now we are facing a federal household with a credit card debt four times its income, and rising incredibly fast. Uh oh. Basically, we as a country own a home we can’t sell, make $40k per year, and owe $160k.

        So no, the problem isn’t just Joe Sixpack… (Though he typically ain’t a member of the greatest generation.) The problem is our elected officials. Look, I grew up on Cape Cod… Many times I crossed paths with Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy. I served on two town committees… These guys aren’t like the rest of us.

        Our politicians are selling us down the creek. Wake up!

        As for the housing process… It was the direct result of the liberal drive to put poor people in houses they couldn’t afford. Doubt that? Read the following liberal’s account… http://grandrants.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/an-objective-democratic-reporter-and-the-economy-wow/

        Alan

        * Numbers vary wildly on this… I’ve seen as low as $37 trillion and well over $100 trillion… I use $100 trillion as a ballpark figure… Here’s one quote…

        “In its 2009 budget, recently released, the Office of Management and Budget in the White House estimated the total assets of America to be $120.4 trillion at the end of 2007.”

        (http://www.ttf.org/index/journal/detail/the-bigger-picture/)

      • BDO says:

        I think we have more in common than we are realizing. We agree that the national debt is big and bad. And we agree that we should throw out all the politicians that are contributing to these expenses.

        However, we disagree on the fundamental reason for these expenses.

        From my understanding on what you are saying, you are saying that the nation owes $50T and that is all the politicians’ fault. I agree there is $50T in debt. But it is not all the nation’s politicians fault. Their responsibility is only $11T, Consumers is $14T, and so on and so on. How can we blame the politicians for $50T of debt when they only contributed $11T?
        You quote some bloggers and TV personalities POVs…let’s agree on using source documents.
        http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/Z1/Current/z1r-2.pdf

        Secondly, do you think that the $11T only accumulated in the last 6 months? NO. This national debt has been growing over many, many years with all sorts of politicians from all sides of the aisle. Do you think that if we fired all the current politicians that the new set would all of sudden stop spending money and start paying off debt?

        I understand from your point of view that politicians are almost a different race of people, since “Ted Kennedy…[is] not like the rest of us!” With all due respect, that is crazy! Politicians are just citizens sent to DC to “represent” us. They spend a lot, because all citizens are bred to spend a lot.

        Just like in times past with every, new generation of politicians they spend, because as citizens we spend. The issues might change from “liberal health care” to “conservative national defense”, but the end result is still spending money we don’t have. The fundamental problem is not politicians; it is citizens that don’t know how to accomplish anything without debt. So, when those citizens “grow up” and become politicians they do the same thing, because they don’t know how to accomplish anything without debt. Our debt addiction is unsustainable personally and nationally.

        We don’t need new politicians, because when has politicians ever done anything right?

        We need a new way of thinking amongst citizens. A citizen that sees debt as a last resort. A citizen that seeks to save money instead of signing up for a new debt. A citizen that is willing to wait for the money to be saved up, instead of using debt and interest payments to accomplish what they want in life. A citizen that is willing to endure a temporary lower quality of life in order to save money instead of trying to keep up with Paris Hilton. A citizen that is patient with getting rich, instead of falling for every debt “opportunity” to get rich quick.

        When we have a citizenry that is able to view debt under those conditions, I am confident we will hire many among us to take over DC and institute a new direction in spending. Until that time, we will continue hiring citizens who “are not like us”, because the fundamental problem is not who the citizen is, but how they view debt in their personal lives.

        I appreciated this conversation and allowing me to voice my POV. Good luck and God Bless in your endeavors!

      • Hi BDO,

        I hope you’re still with us here in that I enjoy our discussions!

        Thoughts on my end…

        * There is a difference of “life perspective” when it comes to all too many politicians. I’ll give you two examples from here on Cape Cod, though I’ll leave out the names for discretionary reasons. (You can probably figure out who I’m talking about.) One individual liked to come into the small drug store I worked on Sundays to get his New York Times et al… While others stood in line to pay, he would waddle by and throw his dollar at the counter. If the bill landed on the counter, fine, if not he kept right on waddling. He’d let the “little people” pick it up. The second has to do with serving jury duty with another powerful person. when he couldn’t rangle out of the potential, he refused to sit with us or speak with us. I distinctly remember him sitting alone in a room waiting for a dismissal I’m sure he had arranged. I also watched that man come into a bar one night (drunk as a skunk) after last call and demanding drinks. His ultimatum was clear… Serve or lose your liquor license. I’ve also served on two town councils and dealt with state reps… No change.

        Consider this… I don’t know what you do for work, but I come from a corporate background as a technical manager. If I ever went to my boss, a co-worker, or a subordinate and announced that I was ready to make a significant and expensive company decision without even having read the tech manuals involved, I would have been laughed off the company property with a pink slip in hand. But what do our politicians have the gall to do?

        A couple of years ago, I started grad school at an Ivy League school in Boston… What an eye opener! As I got to know the profs, they came from positions of power, and never once broke a bead of sweat on a job. They never banged nails or carried boxes. And because I had, I was quickly persona non grata.

        Don’t kid yourself BDO… Most politicians come from a different world of money and power… of entitlement and agenda. Let me ask you something BDO… I come from modest means… I have three degrees, the last being a B.S. in engineering. I have a ton of experience in management and financial stuff. I’m also a syndicated writer… Locals have asked if I’d run for Town Selectman… maybe that could lead to State Rep. That all sounds pretty cool right? But here are the problems… I don’t schmooze, I don’t play politics, I can’t stand liars, and I don’t come from money. I’m conservative, but believe in gay marriage because the idea of “separate but equal” legal unions depends upon “separate but equal”, and that never works. I’m a life member of the NRA but believe in first trimester abortions so long as the central nervous hasn’t developed. I like to drink beer, but haven’t been buzzed in nearly a decade. So my question is… How long do you think I’d last in the political arena? How long do you think I’d last when I called Arlen Specter or Nancy Pelosi not “Esteemed Colleagues” but “Power Pimps”? How long would a regular guy like you or me last?

        Stop watching “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”… Washington is loaded with lawyers and lobbyists for a reason… They can play the dirty game that is politics. The problem is that most of them have never been a pawn on the board.

        Best to you…

        Alan

  2. Gerry Ashley says:

    Excellent illustration. And downright scary. That said…

    I understand that’s a lot of money. But as soon as Lord Obama introduces his new Trillion Dollar Bill (with his likeness on it of course), he will only need to print several hundred of them and then we’re done.

    No, really. We’ll be DONE. As will our children and their children and theirs…

    That is, unless they raise the minimum wage from it’s new level (approximately $7.00/hour) to about $550.00/hour.

    It’s just numbers, isn’t it? If we can all agree to that, then my request for a raise to $2,000/hour shouldn’t be considered all that unreasonable since a quart of milk will then cost about $136.

    And gas will be at $101/gal. Your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited by common sense.

    Sure wish we had a reset button for the economy. Oh wait. We DO. It’s called STOP SPENDING $2 BILLION A DAY WHEN WE DON’T HAVE IT! Fiscal responsibility: What a concept!

  3. [...] dollars is, don’t you? Alan Speakman summed it up nicely in a rant not long ago. Click here to fully comprehend what a trillion dollars is, and then realize the Democrats want to raise [...]

  4. [...] to do in 2010 – would take until the start of February A.D. 392,372. Settled for cash, and piled up in $1 bills, the current US debt would reach to the moon…and back…and back to the moon [...]

  5. [...] in 2010 – would take until the start of February A.D. 392,372. Settled for cash, and piled up in $1 bills, the current US debt would reach to the moon…and back…and back to the moon [...]

  6. 2/27/2010
    Wow ! a trillion dollars, so let me show you a $100 Trillion Dollar Health Care Package
    I read that the AARP got a grant for $18 million dollar ?
    And also they approved a $ 500 billion dollar cut within this Bill
    And there are around 150 thousand people that pay over $500.00 per month to AARP for Medicare ?
    I have been going to a great deal of trouble to show that this whole Health Care Package is a $100 Trillion dollar package.
    Sooooo, this is why the AARP is in bed with the Government, wow, Welcome to the first steps for Force Pay in a split petition. wow ! this is what I get for staying out of issues for over 30 years…
    This story is one of thousands of people who have been dumped on by Insurance Companies. So One day on a blog site i asked the big why… Why force pay into a failed system of Insurance Companies and at the same time tax that all ready burden system ?
    It is because of a dirty little secret. This health care system is a $100 trillion dollar bread maker per year, and the tax lie was the secret of the 10% per cent tax across the board, so where does this secret tax money go ?….,….
    I can show on page 100 at our site a conflict of information of numbers released by Officials, and it looks like, a lot like borrowing from Paul to pay Petter… until I noted the balance of a number with just a top ten list of Health Care Insurance Companies, and this threw my mind off,
    so at a kind of a low ball figure what is 100 milliom Health Care members x $100.00 per month x 12 months ?
    Then I pulled a list of several hundred HCIC COs. It is stated that over 45 million people are not covered. So I did this at $5.00 per month for the poor x 12 x 45 million poor people ?
    And last for this blog, I pulled the top 1000 Companies that face force pay. Please remember their are around 373 to 400 million people that are legal in the U.S. and around 117 million illeagle……..
    Soooo, some body is taking cookies out of the jar, ohhh yea the are only around 250 million people old enough to work at a job, but according to lay offs there are around 173 million + people still working….
    Hmmmm I got a little more work to do,
    Wow, It was stated that Health care is not a moral issue,hmmmm
    Please allow me to share a little story with you. As I watched my mom die from cancer, and Health care Insurance Companies dumped on her as if she was no more than a dog dieing on the side of the road, i dropped from and out of this system for over 30 years, and now because of system failure, the IT, has come into my life. As I watch Government Officials fight over this Health care Dollar, it reminds me of a bright sunny day in Tennessee while on a friends farm and a little bug flew in to the ground, and the chickens went plum off, boy oh boy the scawking and the feathers went shy high, so I reached down and I took this scared little Health Care Bug from Government Officials, and I have it safely in my hands. As I searched for a way to help, I asked God to help me build a Reform that is of a moral building block for the better good of man kind and to rebuild the National Security of the United states Of America. And you would never guess what God has allowed me to see. This little blog statement you will find true,
    first;
    I wish to give a great big thank you to all my new friends on the Internet for posting FASC Concepts in and for Pay It Forward.
    This building block for a honest Health Care Reform has been a great experience and for any one who did not take part, you have truly missed out on what makes Americans Great. This diversity created by Government Officials has failed and now the eyes of 173 million American People watch as now, for the first time Government Officials sit down together as it should be. The out come is yet to be seen. But they know that a anomaly has been created and it is because of the restructuring of The Constitution, The Bill Of Rights, and The Declaration Of Independence, “has been used in it original created forum” as a factor of a peoples right to undo the amendments of Laws that protected Health Care Companies against the People, over a dollar.
    And I wish to say i write what is needed in order that some how I can undo all the wrong I have done in hopes that the slate will be wiped clean….
    Just because our children do not understand I wish to share this again,
    “For days I worked the word diversity in my mind and it came to me that because of this it is not Americas weakness it is our greatest strength. And this is how I will show you.
    Constitution-
    Bill Of Rights –
    The Declaration of Independence-
    United under one forum, builds what is called the Trinity of the Protection Of Laws. This is because these Laws were built by people of faith who gave thanks to God for this wisdom. One would have to see and admire the simplicity of the three as one and at the same time they maintain their independence.”
    On page 100 at our site is the early stages of what is called A Prime Directive for Health Care, so please drop on by and see 173 million peoples views in and for Health Care. And it should be known that this information on page 100 is true and documented in Law and History.
    Henry Massingale
    FASC Concepts in and for Pay It Forward
    http://www.fascmovement.mysite.com on google look for page 1 American dream official site.

  7. To see the true Health Care Tax forum you must stop thinking in 3-D,This multi tax forum is against a $100 Trillion Dollar system.. …
    To force pay into another system of failures within Health Care Insurance Groups.
    This economy will not balance with this concept of a tax forum against the Health Care System. The issue of how to force pay into this system of Health Care may have worked but I am still troubled over the progressive tax forum within this Bill. It covers so many items and Countries that it only forces the system to adjust itself. In some areas, increases against the people and the troubled economy, and in other areas, less effects will be felt.
    But this is my big problem, Government Officials seek help and they are to proud to ask us, “the true working force of Government.” It is understandable they have failed the People and within the United States Of America all we ask is to see us as who we are and not try to bring us into this world of the intellectual. I guess our Prime Directive is that of Star Trek, so it must be understood that for millions of people we are just as happy as can be making $13.00 per hour and we have no interest in this world of politics, and how to be a Enstine. Government Officials must understand that there is a level of people within different parts of this Country, that seek to be only that they find to make them happy.
    As for this economy well, it is said that the U.S.A. Arms Division has created enough arsenal to destroy every last creature in the world 2 times over,built with tax dollars. This would be funny if not for the irony of it. And now as time has passed Government Officials keep failing. Before 9/11 all the way to today.
    As it is in a world of a system, when employees continue to fail, one or two things happen, one; you get fired, two; if you see into a person a good, then it is political correct to implement a penalty or roll back in pay. But this implement of penalty is more favored in the course of action in the Federal Employment World. So how to fix the economy and unite it with the Health Care issue. It would be in the Countries best interest to implement a 10% per cent penalty against every State, County and Government Official within this Matrix of failures. Hey what is that old saying, what is good for the Goose is good for the Gander. I am serous about this, it is past due to show that our Government Officials they have failed, their system failure reaches into this world of warnings that they brush aside as if the information is not worthy noting. From Pearl Harbor to 9/11/2001 to 3/07/2010 of our tax system and Health Care Reform. This 10% per cent penalty should go into the Health Care Forum.
    The big problem that Government Officials have is that they have no street credit. President Obama still has some but if he does not take his family and step away from these dueling Parties, that fight over this Health Care Dollar, and stand with Us he will lose all credit from the streets to the county.
    President Obama, I would say to you, you have one last chance to regain the hopes and dreams of the American People. To reach out in a concept that states, if there is 250 million people in trouble because of these failures, I would give all my money to them and then I would say to all that I gave money to, “I have no money left, would you all please give me $1.00 back and then I would have $250. million dollars to start all over again.”

    As for this $100,trillion dollar in site………….
    Results 1 – 10 of about 685,000 for net worth of medicine development industry
    Just to show how deep this Health Care Tax split petition reaches. The term split petition is used because of the Tax factor plan that is not seen because of the intent not to show a capital Taxing of close to a $100 trillion dollar package, a yearly system income, not profit…..

    Some have stated that I clam to have spiritual in site or something of the sort. I assure you this is not true, so when I state that I asked God to help, it is my way of saying hey Bobby show me how to work on theses Chevy engines. But I do thank you for the consideration. Consider me a cross of Jethro Bodine from the Beverly Hill Billies with my 10th. Grade education and Vin Diesel from the move Pitch Black.
    So drop on by and see page 100 at our site and follow the blue pill link

    Health Care within a moral value, is to ,

    { GIVE LIFE TO HOPE WHERE THERE IS NONE }

    Henry Massingale
    FASC Concepts in and for Pay It Forward
    http://www.fascmovement.mysite.com on google. yahoo, and Aol.com
    please take the time and visit all my new friends on the net and if you wish to post with FASC Concepts you will be most welcomed. So join us and share your ideas as one in one voice.

  8. Our usually really do not get away from comments nevertheless that must be this time! The spouse and i added ones website on reddit!

  9. fun flash games…

    [...]How Much is a Trillion Dollars? « Grand Rants[...]…

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