Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Million, A Billion, A Trillion, Oh My

Here's a great story from CNN about how big these numbers are, and why fiscal conservatives (like yours truly) panic whenever we hear the numbers associated with the recent porkulus package.

"To put a trillion dollars in context, if you spend a million dollars every day since Jesus was born, you still wouldn't have spent a trillion," McConnell said.

CNN checked McConnell's numbers with noted Temple University math professor and author John Allen Paulos.

"A million dollars a day for 2,000 years is only three-quarters of a trillion dollars. It's a big number no matter how you slice it," Paulos said.

Here's another way to look at it.

"A million seconds is about 11½ days. A billion seconds is about 32 years, and a trillion seconds is 32,000 years," Paulos said. "People tend to lump them together, perhaps because they rhyme, but if you think of it in terms of a jail sentence, do you want to go to jail for 11½ days or 32 years or maybe 32,000 years? So, they're vastly different, and people generally don't really have a real visceral grasp of the differences among them."

I read Paulos' book Innumeracy about 20 years ago, and it's as important today as it was then--for just this reason.

Update, 2/8/09: Here's an interesting picture showing the relative costs of some famous projects compared to the current porkulus package.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Funny, but you never engaged in such delightful number fun regarding the War on Iraq. It's rife with dollars per second calculation treasures. You really ought to give it a go.

And the good news for you is that there's no upper limit to what's "reasonable." A trillion per second? Why not? You really can't put a price on what that misadventure is doing for us.

PeggyU said...

Is that book really that old? Oh ... then that means I must be ... :0 !

Darren said...

Yes. Much better to spend that money on a new ice breaker, on "smoking cessation"--even though smokers are paying for the new S-CHIP expansion--and money for Hollywood producers to buy motion picture film.

See, to me, freeing a couple dozen million people from tyranny is a good thing. Getting rid of a nutjob who's pursuing powerful weapons is a good thing.

Spending $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green buildings"--not so much.

You know what *I* think about Iraq? I think you're bummed that we won there. You're angry that President Bush was right. You're angry that Iraq didn't cause President Bush to go down in flames.

Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you're glad that we've won there, and that you were wrong when you thought we'd lose.

rightwingprof said...

"CNN checked McConnell's numbers with noted Temple University math professor and author John Allen Paulos."

They had to ask a mathematician? Can't they count?

PeggyU said...

Geez. If nothing else, maintaining the military is one of the very few legitimate obligations of the government. Don't see anything about ice breakers or tobacco in the Constitution.

Ellen K said...

The "stimulus" bill will cost twice the amount we've spent on the war in the Middle East. So for those of you paying attention, that means that this is the backassward way of the Obama Government to get us out of Afghanistan and Iraq through economic pressure. At least that explains half of it. I am not sure what he means to do about the other half. I guess we will just have to choke on it.