So, how much IS a trillion dollars, anyway?

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon, you’re talking about real money.”

The current mania for bailouts started with an up-front price tag of $700 billion.  That was just the beginning, of course.

US Senator Everett Dirsken is supposed to have uttered the quote above, but scholars at the Dirksen Congressional Center have been unable to confirm that. Since Dirksen was a Republican, and a fiscal conservative, in an era when much classier Senators represented Illinois in Washington, I rather doubt that he did.

You can sure hear a current senator from either party, or an economy wonk in either the incoming or outgoing administration saying that, though, can’t you?

The parade of needy parasites in search of a bailout gets longer every day. It was $700 billion at first, but we knew that was just a taste. The total liability the Bush administration has so far  (as of last night, November 26th, that is) squatted and dumped on us taxpayers has been estimated at $7 TRILLION, and that’s preliminary.

So, how much is $7 trillion, really, besides being “real money?” Is there a way to understand such a huge number, or are we stuck with trying to grasp a meaningless abstraction? Let’s try, anyway.

Don’t most of us working adults have a feel for how much money a thousand dollars is? What can you buy for $1000? I found a Sony, 50-inch plasma TV listed at Wal-Mart for $976.54. Close enough. Round up to $1000, and let’s get going. How much is a million dollars? A thousand, Sony, 50-inch plasma TVs.

I imagine you could get all of those in one, big railroad boxcar, if you packed ’em in real tight, wall to wall, and floor to ceiling.

How much is $100 million? It’s the payload in a hundred railroad boxcars, each of them loaded with 50-inch, plasma TVs. How long would a train of 100 boxcars, loaded with plasma TVs, take to pass you at a railroad crossing? If it’s moving right along, maybe, what —  five, ten minutes? And each car that rumbles past your windshield is carrying $1 million in plasma TVs, bought by taxpayers.

How much is a billion? It’s a thousand million. How about ten trains of a hundred boxcars each — a thousand boxcars, total — of $1000 plasma TVs? Can you picture sitting in front of those flashers and cross arms, watching ten, hundred-car trains — one billion dollars — going by?

How about a hundred billion? That’s a hundred, one-hundred-car trains of $1000 plasma TVs. If you’re stuck at this railroad crossing while these go by, you’d better be in an RV, with a full refrigerator and an empty toilet tank.

How much is a trillion? It’s a thousand billion. That’s a thousand, one-hundred-car trains, carrying what has to be most of the  world’s production of 50-inch plasma TVs.

$7 trillion in plasma TVs would have to be hauled in SEVEN THOUSAND, one-hundred-car trains. A 100-ton boxcar is about 70 feet long. A hundred-car train, without locomotives, would be about a mile and a half long. A fantasy train carrying $7 trillion worth of plasma TVs would be over 7500 miles long — long enough to tie up every crossing from Vancouver, BC, Canada, to the middle of Brazil, if the fantasy train track went that far in a straight line.

Remember, now — these plasma TVs were all bought with money confiscated by threat of violence from US taxpayers, present and future. They will be distributed by government employees who don’t care what those taxpayers think about their methods.

If the distribution is as efficient as a government venture usually is, over half of the TVs will be lost, stolen, broken or given to people in Third World countries who live in mud huts without electricity, who think TV is unholy, and who hate the United States because it is The Great Satan. The latter recipients will trade their TVs at the local bazaar for AK-47s and explosives with which to kill Western aid workers and blow up US embassies.

Now, do you have a better idea of what “real money” is?

All aboard the bailout express! Have your tickets ready.

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