How large is a trillion dollars? Are we in trouble?

Paul Jordan

Slippery Rock

Just how large is a trillion? It rolls off our tongues very easily, like when we say a million or a billion, without much real thought as to its actual size.

A thousand is one followed by three zeros, a million is one followed by six zeros, a billion is one followed by nine zeros and one trillion is one followed by 12 zeros. A trillion is a thousand billions or a million millions.

To help put this in perspective, let’s calculate how long it would take a clock to tick off a trillion seconds.

Before we do this, take a moment to weigh in with your best guess. Don’t be afraid - throw out a number.

It will make the exercise more exciting and meaningful. Just think of it as pinning the tail on the donkey – see how close you can come. Go ahead – give it a shot before you read on.

We have 60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour, 24 hours to the day and 365 days to the year, which is 31,536,000 seconds for a year’s time.

Dividing a trillion seconds (remember one followed by 12 zeros) by this number gives us 31,710 years. Did you manage to come even close with your guess? So, it would take us 31,710 years to spend a trillion dollars, at a dollar per second, which is $60 per minute, or $3,600 per hour. Take a moment and really reflect on this - it’s $3,600 - every hour for 31,710 years.

Does this get your attention? The birth of Christ was 2,000 years ago – 31,700 years is a multiple of almost 16 times that. All I can say is WOW; it’s unbelievable! Mind you, this is only $1 trillion; the national debt is $20 trillion. To help put this in perspective, the average price of a new car or truck as of April 2017 (Kelly Blue Book) was $33,560. The national debt of $20 trillion would purchase 595.9 million new vehicles at that rate. The number of registered vehicles in the U.S. as of 2015 was 263.6 million. So, 420 trillion would allow us to replace all the vehicles today more than twice over with brand new ones. Think traffic congestion is bad now? Think what that would do!

Now think about this: the current tax cut/reform legislation that was passed is not revenue neutral. In fact, it allows for an additional $1.5 trillion to be added to the existing debt over the next 10 years.

There is a very likely chance that this supposed limitation on increased debt will not be met. I have serious doubts that it will.

Are we in trouble? I think so! You tell me!