The Corner

What’s a Trillion Look Like Cont.

From a reader:

Thank you for that cool link showing the pallets of $100 bills used to comprise a trillion dollars.  As a physicist, when I first heard about the ginormous quantities of cash in this infernal porkulus bill, I couldn’t help but do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation that yields a sense of the size of the trillion dollars my descendants will owe.  It’s one thing to juggle exponents; it’s another to conceptualize how much a trillion really is.

After I navigated to your link, I used a Vernier caliper to make my calculation a little more quantitative.  A stack of 4 bills is 0.5 millimeters thick, so ten bills are 1.25 mm thick.  Let’s round down to 1.2 mm for a stack of ten bills.   

Therefore, a trillion dollars is ten billion (1010) $100 dollar bills, corresponding to a stack of bills 1200 km or 740 miles high!  If the bills were $1 bills, there would be1012 (a trillion) of them, and they’d form a stack 74,000 miles high, or 30% the distance to the Moon! 

Suppose the bills were joined end-to-end.  Dollar bills are about 6 inches or 15 cm long, so 10 billion $100 dollar bills would form a belt 1.5 x 106  (1.5 million) km long.  That’s about 900,000 miles long, almost four times the Earth-Moon distance.

And if you string a trillion $1 bills end-to-end, you’d get a belt o’ bills a hundred times longer than that, or about 90 million miles.  You’re past Mars’s orbit and entering the asteroid belt going away from the Sun, and in the other direction, you’ve about reached the Sun!    

Do those guys spending our money really know how much cash that is?

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