August 31st, 2009
06:10 AM GMT
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When most people think of their own budgets, they think of money on a relatively simple scale; food, housing, transportation, household goods and so forth.

I’ve moved several times over the past several years. With each move I track my spending to gauge my new cost of living. It’s nothing complex. I simply jot down how much I spend each day on things like lunch, groceries and transportation. After a few weeks, it’s easy to see where I stand.

That’s because the numbers are simple.

But then you hear the staggering figures batted around over the past year. Whether it’s millions of dollars for Wall Street bonuses, or billions of dollars in bankruptcy filings, it all starts to turn into a blur of huge sums.

Then, as if those figures aren’t confusing enough, the White House comes along and projects a $9 trillion budget deficit over the next 10 years.

How does a person even get their mind around such a massive sum of money?

Nine trillion is nine million million dollars.

Sorry, did that just make things more confusing? Maybe these three points might help put it all in perspective:

-         If you spent ten million dollars a day, every single day going back to the year Christ was born, you would have only spent about $7.3 trillion by now.

-         As Temple University Professor John Allen Paulos pointed out to CNN a few months back, “A million seconds is about 11½ days. A billion seconds is about 32 years, and a trillion seconds is 32,000 years."

-         Or as Colleen McEdwards found in this week’s Biz Clinic, if you stacked one dollar bills one on top of the other, the pile could go to the Moon and back … then halfway back to the Moon.

And if each of the roughly 300 million Americans chipped in to payoff a $9 trillion deficit, we’d each have to shell out $30,000.

I don’t know about you, but that’s just not in my budget.

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Filed under: Biz Clinic

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Per Holmlund


    Most of the times it simplifies if you skip the zeros and think of the country economy as a family’s. So if the economy changes to the worse for the family how do you think the age of the family will affect the possibility for a recovery. Say you are in situation where your have gone from no leverage to a situation of steady rising leverage. Leverage just for survival and not investments.

    What are the chances to reverse the situation for a family in the mid thirties compared with a family in the mid sixties? And I’m sorry to say that with the demographics of today the world looks like the latter.

    And whenever the zeros are exploding think gold.

    August 31, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  2. Henk Holland

    So for the average american household it will be approx double that amount, how can this paid back ( to the asean lenders with interest) i really don't have a clue

    August 31, 2009 at 6:15 pm |
  3. marcjay

    And it's quite possible that all of the money being committed won't be enough to do all that it's intended to?
    And what do we do if unforeseen things that always come up make the situation worse?

    September 2, 2009 at 6:02 pm |
  4. jen

    The "Great Recession" is showing signs of bottoming but significant risks remain. Neither economic recovery nor permanent damage can be ruled out. $50T has been loss and $13T is being committed to bailouts, buyouts and incentives. Recovery can only be achieved when the infusion of $T worth of stimuli end and the economy operates on its own power. The tyranny of $trillions ($T) cannot be adequately planned in current economic models. We are in uncharted territory.

    September 4, 2009 at 8:47 pm |
  5. James Taylor

    You can find a very good visualization of a Trillion dollars in our new book, The Great Recession Conspiracy, at It is also available as a Kindle book.

    In addition, you will find everything you ever wanted to know about this recession, who caused it and why, what you can do about it, and what is likely to come next.


    September 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm |
  6. Ken

    Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to descend upon the nation's capital next weekend to voice their concerns about what they call Congress' "nonstop tax-and-spend agenda" in the first-ever Taxpayer March on D.C. The three-day event will begin Thursday morning at the D.C. Armory in Southeast Washington and is expected to end Saturday with a march from Freedom Plaza down Pennsylvania Avenue to a rally on the U.S. Capitol steps. Participants can attend workshops and lobby their congressmen while attending rallies on health care and the economy.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:59 am |
  7. gohkm

    Just do not understand the simple economy until now.

    The losses in asset , subprime loans, collapse of sick banks.
    And the medicine – very large stimulus and very low interest rate and the the economy recovers – the market recovers.
    So simple even MUGABE can do that but it did not work at all.
    But BERNANKE did that using the same recipe as MUGABE and it is working to recovery as said.
    So simple but how it works I do not think you need a rocket scientist as such a case or the economy is still the same before ( bad).
    As USA just print the green back because the world believe in it.

    September 16, 2009 at 5:07 am |
  8. Rich

    Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
    Benjamin: Yes, sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Benjamin: Yes, I am.
    Mr. McGuire: Wheelbarrows.

    Part of the problem is not just that one trillion is a large number, it's that it's so much larger than the numbers we're used to working with. I suppose we could do what scientists and engineers do when faced with huge magnitude differences: resort to using logarithms.

    The log (base 10) of one trillion is 12. The log of one thousand is 3. The log of 2.45, the recent cost in US dollars of a gallon of regular gasoline at the 7-Eleven on Newbury St. in Boston, would be 0.389 ... what? log dollars?

    Now, when you hit 12 trillion log dollars, you can start to worry. I predict that this is what it would take for the US government to bail out googol.

    September 16, 2009 at 2:12 pm |

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