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Counting down to infinity

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By John Pawlak

As a teacher of mathematics, it always bothers me how little comprehension there seems to be with big numbers. Perhaps the blame lies in evolution’s decision to accommodate us with only 10 fingers.
The worst victim of math is our National Debt, which now stands at more than $17.6 trillion. Now, the problem here is the use of the word “trillion.” It makes it sounds so well understood and sensible.
Maybe we should change the word. Would saying that the National Debt is 17.6 wowza-hollaring-gazillion dollars make it sound more intimidating?
But really, how big is the debt?
One figure used to scare people (rightfully so) is $56,300, the amount of debt owned by every man, woman and child in our nation. But this still doesn’t seem to convey the actual size here. We need a more geometric perspective.
Consider the border fencing being built along the U.S.-Mexico border. The average cost per mile of fencing is $3,900,000 (someone out there is getting very rich). Even at that ridiculously high cost, with more than 17 trillion dollars to spend, we could build fencing to circumscribe the entire perimeter of the Continental United States, not just once by 415 times.


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