Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One Trillion

I have some problems with the health care reform legislation that is currently being debated in the Senate. The fact that it’s meant to move the nation closer to Socialism is primary I suppose, and that it is intentionally over 2000 pages in length in order to keep people from being able to know and understand what’s in it. I don’t like the fact that it was designed to tear down and completely restructure a system that, while flawed and in need of reform, at least fits the national culture. I don’t like the fact that the new system is now being put together as if by a committee of tailors, each with a different sense of style and ideas about what the garment should look like. There is no pattern or plan, and what should be undertaken with all caution and an eye on the future is being rushed in order to take advantage of the political moment. But as much as all my other problems, I am troubled at the cost: over one Trillion dollars. And that’s a conservative estimate that relies on a whole slough of assumptions all converging to the same point at the same time. If past experience with Medicare is any indication, the costs could be off by as much as a factor of ten. But however educated that guess, it’s still just a guess. What is not a guess is the one Trillion dollar number now in front of us. People have grown used to hearing the numbers: Millions (Lottery); Billions (Oprah, Gates, Buffett), but the only place you hear the term Trillions of dollars is when you talk about the US economy. I think people would be well served it they knew just how big a number one Trillion is. So to that end I have compiled a list of references just to put a Trillion in context.

We begin with a simple unit of measure that everyone can appreciate: the Dollar bill. You’ve seen it before. It has George Washington on the obverse (face side) and a big ONE, the pyramid and the eagle on the reverse (other side). It’s 6 inches long, 2-1/2 inches wide, and 43/10,000 of an inch thick.

One Trillion of anything is one million piles of one million each.

One Million one dollar bills weigh 2,202 pounds. One Trillion Dollars collected all together would weigh over two Billion pounds and take a fleet of 55,065 semi tractor trailers to haul it.

Laid end to end One Trillion Dollars would stretch 94,696,969 miles. This is a distance three million miles farther away than the sun. So far that it would take light 8-1/2 minutes to make the trip.

That distance 94,696,969 miles would take you from the Earth to the moon and back 198 times. You could travel around the Earth 3,809 times.

If you were to neatly stack One Trillion new bills, it would make a stack 67,866 miles high. Carefully lie it down and it would wrap the Earth 8-1/2 times.

If you wanted to cover some of the Earth, you certainly could. One Trillion Dollars would cover a square area 61 miles by 61 miles. 3,736 square miles.

You would have to flood a regulation NFL football field (excluding end zones) to a depth of 30 feet and 8 inches to accumulate One Trillion Drops.

And finally:

If one day you turned your kitchen faucet on full flow and then got distracted........ you could leave the house, go to college, complete your degree, date, marry, start a family, get divorced, date, re-marry, start another family, and 9-1/2 years later when you went back to your house, you would be there in plenty of time to shut off the water before One Trillion drops had gone down the drain.

I’ve composed this blog to try and illustrate the magnitude of one small piece (one trillion) of what I consider to be the main problem that our nation faces today, and that is runaway entitlement spending. Our legislators, for as long as I can remember, have pandered, wheeled and dealt, and greased the ways for their own political ambitions without regard for the future. Sometimes the spending has been done with the best of intentions, but still with no regard for the true affordability of the “project”. And now my son and daughter along with you and I, and your sons and daughters, as citizens, owe over $39,000 to the national debt. In a few years when they begin their working lives that number will suddenly jump to the $111,000 the each tax “payer” now owes. It saddens me to know that in 5 years no matter what we do this number will be much higher.

We are living in a remarkable time. Depending on your point of view, it may be either transformative or catastrophic. Whatever your politics I beg of you to please pay attention to the numbers, to know just how astronomical they are. When you hear that the Senate has a One Trillion Dollar bill under consideration or that they plan to extend the national debt ceiling by One Trillion Eight Hundred Billion Dollars (increasing our credit limit) I beg of you to think of the numbers and ask yourself “can we afford this?” Ask yourself: “do I have the right to obligate my children and their children, and theirs to a lifetime of debt repayment?”.

And that’s what an average guy thinks.

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