I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s book “Notes from a Big Country” (published in 1998 and compiled from his regular column in the Telegraph - he’d recently moved back to the USA after living in England for nearly 20 years). In one of his pieces, he was writing about the USA’s national debt – not because he was particularly interested in the American economy, but more because of the figures involved ($4.5trillion)… “but what does $4.5trillion actually mean?” he asked.
I found his following explanation both entertaining and
“Imagine that you
were in a vault with the whole of America’s national debt and you were told you
could keep each dollar bill you initialled. Say, too, for the sake of argument
that you could initial one dollar bill each second and that you worked straight
through without stopping. How long do you think it would take to count a
trillion dollars? Go on, humour me and take a guess. Twelve weeks? Five years?
If you initialled
one dollar per second, you would make $1,000 every 17 minutes. After twelve
days of non-stop effort you would acquire your first $1million. Thus it would
take you 120 days to accumulate $10million and 1,200 days – something over
three years – to reach $100million. After 31.7 years, you would become a
billionaire, and after almost a thousand years you would be as wealthy as Bill
Gates, the founder of Microsoft. But not until after 31,709.8 years would you
count your trillionth dollar…
That is what $1 trillion is.”
I’m still trying to get my head round this!
It’s a bit like someone telling you that you’ll have to
wait another 700-odd YEARS before you can celebrate 1million DAYS since the
birth of Christ…
Somehow, I don’t
think I’m going to be able to make it.
Note: I’m aware
that, in the past, “trillion” has meant difficult things in the USA and in the
UK. Apparently, these days, they mean the same (one million million) – it used
to be one million million million in “British English” (according to
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