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You Look Like A Million Dollars, But What Does A Trillion Look like?

Topics: Editorial & Opinion | 3 CommentsBy admin | March 7, 2009

Putting Things In Perspective


Yeah, you look like a million dollars,
but this is a hundred million…

All the casual conversation about trillion-dollar budget issues lately reminded me of how poorly most of us understand numbers as they relate to reality. For instance, ask a person how far away the moon is: 24,000 miles? 240,000 miles? 24,000,000 miles? Don’t feel badly if you don’t know yourself. To put things in perspective on that scale though: if the sun were a beach ball about 2 feet in diameter, the Earth would be a pea 215 feet away (about a small city block), and the nearest star would be about 11,000 miles away. To put a trillion in perspective, the MegaPenny Project uses an image of a trillion pennies next to some familiar architecture. If you’d rather see examples using hundred-dollar bills, see this PageTutor.com page which utilizes Google Sketchup. Another way to look at things is to ponder what you could buy with large sums of money. For instance, WhatWarCosts.com tells us that with their estimate of $323 Billion spent on the war, you could hire 577,648 teachers for 12 years, or bribe every member of Congress 6,037 times. Which, on reflection, has probably in fact happened over the last couple of years. There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites out there with examples like this; one of my favorites is that with a trillion dollars we could pave the entire U.S. interstate highway system with 23.5-karat gold leaf. If you’re tired of bailed out bankers having all the fun, and you’d like to try spending trillions of dollars yourself, try The Three Trillion Dollar Shopping Spree. And if you missed it when you were a kid, check out the classic kid’s book How Much Is a Million

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  1. Posted by » Infoporn & Data Addiction - Dissociated Press on 09.15.09 3:16 pm

    [...] especially partial to the kind that puts incomprehensible things into tidy visual form, like what does a million dollars like? Which is why I especially like What If You Printed the Internet? Economic data is also always more [...]

  2. Posted by » Thanks A Trillion, Frank - Dissociated Press on 02.02.10 11:07 am

    [...] as in the graphic at left, which was assembled from the larger images here. We explored this in more detail last year. You can also do what politicians do, and talk about the numbers in ways that sound good [...]

  3. Posted by E-Mail vs. Email – The 2011 Dissociated Press Stylebook | dissociatedpress.com on 03.20.11 10:16 am

    [...] trust my judgment on the ability of the reader to grasp the figures being presented. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s difficult for most people to conceptualize large numbers in a useful way in the first [...]