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The protests in Wisconsin

How much money is a lot of money to you?  Would a couple of grand mean that special occasion, a new car, or a dream holiday?  Would a Lottery win do it for you, say $1,000,000?  Not enough to retire on?  Well perhaps not.  We might all do very well with a banker’s bonus.  At my stage in life $10,000,000 – an average bankers annual bonus would see me out in comfort and some style.

But I can still see it.  I can reckon it in size and shape, a mansion here, a yacht there, a thundering good divorce settlement perhaps.  Extravagant, obscene even, but still imaginable.

Even the Lotto’s ruin-your-life- rollover payouts at £10 or £20 million are just about graspable.

Others seeing money have a greater vision.  Everett Dirkson the Senator from Illinois once famously said “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon your talking real money”.

So when the figures came out for the size of America’s national debt at the end of last month it was an incomprehensible sum.  Just beyond anyone’s imaginations.  As at 31st January the United States debt was 14 Trillion dollars (actually 14.7 but getting fussy leads us back to old man Dirkson). Fully 96.4% of the entire US GDP.

To try and understand just what a humongous number a trillion is to look at it this way.

If you decided to have handed out a million dollars on the day Christ was born two thousand years ago, and then paid out a million dollars the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, you would still not yet  have paid out a trillion dollars by yesterday. 

And the debt is fourteen times the size of that.

And America’s going to sort it by cutting teachers’ salaries in Wisconsin?


Copyright David Macadam 2011