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Weekend Diversion: One trillion dollars!

March 14, 2009 on 8:20 am | In Random Stuff |

Some people have a hard enough time wrapping their head around large numbers when it comes to astronomy. I’ve tried to explain orders of magnitude before, but perhaps this explanation (courtesy of Landon) will serve us better. When you look out at a clear night sky and see all those stars twinkling against the blackness of space, you’re only seeing a few thousand stars.

Which, of course, is not only way too many to count, but is only about 0.000001% of the stars in our galaxy. You see, we have something like 400 billion (that’s 400,000,000,000) stars that make up our Milky Way galaxy.

These numbers are really hard to imagine. So let’s show you, with a little bit of money — okay, a ridiculously large amount of money — how to get a handle on numbers that are this large. Let’s start with a simple US bill, the largest bill in common circulation, the $100 bill:

For my wife and I, this is enough to buy about 4 days worth of groceries. A fair bit of money, but nothing that’ll change your life. Now, we’re going to go up by a factor of 100. What if, instead of just one of these, I had a stack of 100 $100 bills, totaling $10,000?

Well, now we’re talking! This is about a year’s worth of rent for my entire living quarters, a pretty sweet deal! It’s a lot of money, to be sure, and it still fits in your pocket. But, let’s not stop here. Let’s go up by another factor of 100. What if we took 100 of these stacks of 100 $100 bills each, to bring us up to a cool $1,000,000?

Oh, look, someone just left a million dollars lying around on the street! Not something you could fit in your pocket anymore, but you could easily fit it into a purse or a grocery bag. This is about as much money as the typical American family makes over the course of 18 years. This is about enough money to take 10 crazy adventure tourism trips, such as going to Antarctica, Mt. Everest, or outer space. Yes, a million dollars is a lot of money. But we’re just getting started. What if we increased this by another factor of 100, so that we had 100 of the stacks we have right now?

One hundred million dollars. $100,000,000. As much money as Alex Rodriguez makes in 4 years. As much money as I will make, at my current job, in a little over 2,000 years. This is about the GDP of a very small Caribbean island. And enough to make a very impressive stack on a standard palette. Let’s just go up one factor of 10 this time, to one billion dollars:

$1,000,000,000. So hard to fathom. This is the GDP of a reasonably-sized country like Guyana, which has over 800,000 people living in it, or about the population of San Francisco. And enough to make 10 large palettes of this. But this is enough money to buy and build the dynamic tower skyscraper, and to still have enough left over to buy a major league baseball team. A ridiculous amount of money, to be sure. But I asked about one trillion dollars, didn’t I? That’s 1,000,000,000,000 dollars. If we had the same palettes, double stacked them, and laid them out, what would $1,000,000,000,000 look like?

And that, my friends, is just about how big our stimulus package is. Yikes. One trillion dollars.

On that note, have a great weekend!


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  1. Very informative post! And good example of mentioning Guyana, because I am living in it! I am still in awe looking the stimulus package photo, Yikes!!

    Comment by Sultan Kassim — March 16, 2009 #

  2. Should be interesting to see just how much all that paper and ink ends up being worth in 10 years.

    And, am I the only one outraged by the fact that a man that catches, throws, and hits a ball earns so much more than someone with a PhD? When will the athlete salary bubble burst?

    Comment by Richard — March 17, 2009 #

  3. When the person with the PhD can entertain as many people for as long a time as the person who can hit 50 HRs in a season.

    Comment by ethan — March 17, 2009 #

  4. wow, good answer Ethan!

    Comment by Justin — March 19, 2009 #

  5. Now let’s multiply that total by 500 which represents the net worth of the queen and the Rothschilds…collectively known as LONDON…500 trillion dollars, or enough to purchase one half of the world lock, stock and barrel.

    Comment by Jame — March 23, 2009 #

  6. Ethan, I applaud your interesting use of Google SketchUp to make that diagram of the trillion dollars. I bet that is a use of the program they never anticipated, and I bet you made all those stacks of money with ease as well.

    (I think I am right in assuming you used google sketchup.)

    Comment by Eric H. — March 24, 2009 #

  7. Dear Sir,

    I would like to track down the original creator of the images. Did you created them by yourself, or did you get them in another website?

    The most frequent reference I found for this subject is to the web site, but they don’t seem to be the author.

    Please clarify,

    Best regards,

    Comment by Alessandro — March 27, 2009 #

  8. Shades of the Weimar Republic of Germany where it took a wheelbarrow load of money to buy a loaf of bread.. In a year or two that trillion dollars won’t be worth the paper it is printed on. Hyper inflation will reduce its value to nothing.

    Comment by Lee M. VanNatter — March 28, 2009 #

  9. And they won’t stop at 1 trillion before this is over…

    Comment by Reader — March 29, 2009 #

  10. actually the true cost of the bailout is closer to 8 trillion.

    Comment by actually — April 22, 2009 #

  11. 10000000000000rs\-

    Comment by SHEKHAR — April 25, 2009 #

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  13. This is interesting

    Comment by beauty — February 25, 2010 #

  14. excellent post, i love it.

    Comment by Mitch Mahoney — April 18, 2010 #

  15. I think that the stimulus package have helped a lot in restoring the economy. right now we can see some improvements in the economy. right now we can see some improvements in the eco*”"

    Comment by Bethany Bennett — May 1, 2010 #

  16. Wow this is amazing information! and haha i like the joke about the all starts with a bang thing…haha crazy huh? K-POW ther it is :P BAHAHAHAHHA thats totally ridiculus

    Comment by John — August 27, 2010 #

  17. we can say that the stimulus package that were issued several years ago have been taking its effect now”-`

    Comment by Nursery Decoration  — October 20, 2010 #

  18. I can safely say I’m glad I’m not a billionaire, let alone a trillionaire. I don’t have the space to store that amount of money. I suppose I could fit it in the attic, but then there’s the effort of getting it all up there.

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