Monday, October 19, 2015

the numbers game…

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 pretty “gobsmacking”:
“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 Wikipedia).

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