What is a Trillion? Putting it into Perspective.

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!

Trillion dollar image

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.

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This entry was posted in Money and Banking, Richard C Gessford and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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