Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Million is a Billion is a Trillion

Quite a few years back, one of my favorite television shows was the "Cosmos" series hosted by Carl Sagan on PBS. For someone who was going through a childhood fascination with astronomy (due in part to my parent's gift of a subscription to Odyssey magazine), I loved Sagan's explanations of time travel and the formation of the planets and the "billions and billions" of stars in the universe.

Billions was a lot then. Now, not so much.

Trillion dollar deficits; trillion dollar budgets. Trillion dollar problems fixed with trillion dollar solutions. Where does it end? I get so incredibly aggravated watching money get thrown at problems as a band-aid solution, rather than fixing the root of the problems and thus fixing the problems themselves (and Republicans are just as guilty of Democrats, so there's plenty of blame to go around). And with the release of the President's FY 2010 budget proposal this morning and the passage of the FY 2009 omnibus appropriations bill (which includes 9,000 earmarks that really aren't earmarks; they're "special projects"), I get to get all fired up again

In the midst of the numerous news clips that I read at my job each morning, I ran across an excerpt in an article in Politico which quotes David M. Schwartz, author of the children's book How Much is a Million? He tries to give a good way for folks to get their minds around what a trillion really is; I liked it enough that I wanted to share it here.

"I think that the best we can hope for is to make them more concrete. Nobody will ever get a real feel for a trillion dollars. But relating them to human-sized things, or a human time scale, I think we can wrap our minds around them.

"Each step from a million to billion to trillion is times a thousand. If you think of it in terms of time - seconds - and go to a point a million seconds from that, you'll have gone 11-1/2 days into the future. A billion seconds turns out to be 32 years. You'll reach that in 2041. A trillion seconds is 32,000 years. I like to say that I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be doing a million seconds from now, I have no idea what I'll be doing a billion seconds from now, and I have an excellent idea what I'll be doing a trillion seconds from now."


julieunplugged said...

WOW! That puts things in perspective.

Kansas Bob said...

Yeah Matt.. that does put a bit of perspective around those numbers.

These days I have been thinking about our problems and how things in DC (and other govt places) really need to change. My solution to the problem is to institute voter mandated term limits..






..term limits are just a vote away.

Ed G. said...

great post!