A Trillion Dollars in Perspect

“A billion here, a billion there.  Pretty soon, you’re talking about real money.”  

Attributed to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen


Everett Dirksen (R.-Ill) was the Senate Minority Leader in the 1960s.  He was as famous for his wit as he was for his concern about federal spending and our rising public debt.  In 1969, the year he died, the U.S. public debt was $354 billion.  In today’s dollars that would be around $2.5 trillion.  If only that were the size of today’s debt.   Instead it has ballooned to a whopping $22 trillion.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the leading Democrat presidential candidates are proposing programs that will add trillions more:  universal child care, free college, universal basic income, reparations, tax credit for renters and let us not forget Bernie Sander’s Medicare for all.  The latter is estimated to cost anywhere from $3.24 trillion to $1.38 trillion a year, depending on whose estimate you take.

Now when we throw around single digit numbers like that it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s billions or trillions of dollars we are talking about.  The average, or even above average, American has no concept of either figure.  So whether it’s one trillion or three trillion it doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize that the entire bloated budget for the United States in 2019 was just shy of $4.5 trillion.  If that doesn’t put it in perspective for you, let me try something else.

If you put in a 40-hour workweek, you would have to work almost 481 billion years (480,769,230 yrs.) to work a trillion hours.

If you had a great year at work and made $100,000 you have to bring in the same income for 10 million years to make a trillion.

If you saved $100 a week, without interest, it would take you more than 192 million years (192,307,692 yrs.) to save a trillion dollars.

If you stood on a street corner and handed out one dollar per minute, it would take you approximately 2 million years (1,907,814 yrs.) to hand out a trillion dollars.

If you went on a shopping spree and spent $1,000 per day until you spent one trillion dollars, you  would have to shop every day for almost 3 million years (2,739,726 yrs).

A trillion one-dollar bills would cover 94,697,000 miles or cross the U.S. coast-to-coast almost 32,000 times.

If you wanted to hold your breath for a trillion seconds, you would have to hold it for over 31 thousand years (31,536,000 yrs).

The information site ThoughtCo has calculated that  one trillion pennies stacked on top of each other would make a tower about 870,000 miles high — the same distance obtained by going to the moon, back to Earth, then to the moon again.

One trillion ants would weigh over 3,000 tons.

Health care is a major concern for most Americans, having risen dramatically since the passage of  Obamacare or the UN-Affordable Care Act.  The typical non-elderly family spends an average of $8200 a year on health care.

If you think that is a lot, just wait until you see what it will cost if it is “free.”  The truth is, no one really knows, because when something is perceived as free, then those on the receiving end demand more, not less, of it.

Bernie Sanders was right about one thing:  The middle class will have to be taxed to pay for it but it won’t stop there.  A 2017 analysis by The New York Times estimates that at least 74 million Americans who currently benefit from Medicaid would potentially face higher taxes under a single-payer plan.

Senator Dirksen was famous for relating stories to go with his debt warnings.  One that bears repeating was called “Cat in the Well. ” According to the Congressional Record, it was delivered on the Senate floor on June 16, 1965:

“One time in the House of Representatives [a colleague] told me a story about a proposition that a teacher put to a boy. He said, ‘Johnny, a cat fell in a well 100 feet deep. Suppose that cat climbed up 1 foot and then fell back 2 feet. How long would it take the cat to get out of the well?’

“Johnny worked assiduously with his slate and slate pencil for quite a while, and then when the teacher came down and said, ‘How are you getting along?’ Johnny said, ‘Teacher, if you give me another slate and a couple of slate pencils, I am pretty sure that in the next 30 minutes I can land that cat in hell.’”

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