Feb 19

How Big Is a Trillion?

Harold Burson

Harold Burson
Burson-Marsteller

Some of us can still remember when a billion was a big number. (I recall President Lyndon Johnson’s reluctance to present a $100 billion budget to the Congress in the mid-60s.)

Nowadays a billion dollars doesn’t seem like a great deal of money. As the memorable Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen reportedly* said. “A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there and it soon adds up to real money.”

But that time has passed us by. A lot of money today is measured in the trillions — our gross domestic product (good), our national debt (bad), our budget deficit (worse).

But do any of us really comprehend a trillion – a trillion of anything?

This may help put it – a trillion – in better perspective:

• One million seconds equates to 11 ½ days.

• One billion seconds equates to 31.7 years.

• One trillion seconds equates to 31,700 years.

Get the idea?

* Although widely quoted for many years, there is some doubt among historians that Senator Dirksen actually spoke these exact words.

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