Friday, March 13, 2009

Trillion with a T

I'll try not to talk about bailout/stimulus-related stuff after this, but I ran across a page that really put things into perspective. Have you ever wondered what a trillion dollars looks like? (This is why I react negatively to the latest rash of advertisements that use the word “stimulus.”)

A while back, someone posted a thread on a message forum I frequent, asking the following question: “If you had one billion dollars, how would you spend it?” (That's billion, not trillion.) The question wasn't asking you to just rattle off a few things you'd buy, it was asking you to sit down and give every cent of that $1 billion a name, to really think about it.

So I gave it a shot. For me, a chunk of it wouldn't actually get spent; I would do boring things with it like save/invest it. However, I quickly discovered something startling: I was having trouble figuring out how to use it all. I had imagined it would be difficult to decide how to spend a small amount of money; a large amount, I reasoned, would be easy to fritter away. I did all the responsible and charitable things I could think of with my imaginary wealth, and there was still a bunch left over. I started indulging in fun, frivolous things, and I still wasn't spending it all. I went nuts, spending the invisible money like a whole aircraft carrier full of drunken sailors, and I still couldn't spend it all. I finally spent the last of it by divvying it up between the investments and charitable donations I'd already thought were getting insanely generous chunks of cash.

It's pretty clear to me that, when it comes to money, most politicians and I are not even on the same planet.

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