Trillion is such a gigantic number that it’s difficult for the mind to comprehend. As we grapple with trillion-dollar annual budget deficits, and a 17 trillion-dollar Federal debt, the numbers become so large that the meaning is lost.
So how do we conceptualize an astronomical number like a trillion in a way we can understand?
Writing it out doesn’t help, it just looks like a lot of zeros:
- Hundred = 100
- Thousand = 1,000
- Million = 1,000,000
- Billion = 1,000,000,000
- Trillion = 1,000,000,000,000
How about imagining a trillion dollars in $100.00 dollar bills?
I could certainly deal with a million, a hundred million, or maybe even a billion, but finding a place to store a trillion dollars in $100 dollar bills might present something of a challenge. But on the other hand, if I had a trillion in $100’s I could probably afford a pretty nice shed to keep them in!
But thinking of trillions terms of time may be the most effective way for us wrap our minds around the number:
- One million seconds is 11.5 days.
- One billion seconds is 32 years.
- One trillion seconds is 32,000 years.
In other words the 17 trillion-dollar federal debt, denominated in seconds, equals 544,000 years.