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On Aug. 31, the National Debt hit the $16 trillion mark. I’ve often remarked that if people really understood numbers, they would never allow the government to amass such a debt. But hey, it’s just a number, right?
Yeah, 16 trillion is a number. It happens to be a big number. Big. Really big. Really really big.
But I really really don’t have enough space in this column to insert enough reallys to make my point. Let’s just say it really really is really really darn big.
The problem with big numbers is that our brains simply aren’t wired to comprehend them. Really.
For example, in the night sky you’ll see lots of stars (in New Mexico that is — don’t try this in New Jersey). There’s something like 8,000 stars visible to the naked eye.
But there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone. That number dwarfs the 8,000 we see at night.
And 16 trillion? Well, you would need 90 Milky Way galaxies to have 16 trillion stars.
No, this doesn’t do it. Our brains can’t easily visualize galaxies. How about something smaller, like an eyelash? Sixteen trillion eyelashes would weigh about 3,500 tons!
Or how about considering time. Something small again, like a second. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. An average life span of 75 years equates to 2.3 billion seconds.
Now take a $100 bill and burn it. Then burn another. Torch $100 every second for a lifetime and you’d burn $230 billion.
If you wanted to burn $16 trillion that way — $100 every second — it would take you over 5,000 years.
Sixteen trillion grains of sand would weigh 10,000 tons. Multiply the thickness of a human hair by sixteen trillion and it would be over 42,000 miles thick.
Want to build a wall along the Mexican border? A state-of-the-art 12-foot tall 2-foot-thick concrete razor-wired electrified wall equipped with monitoring devices would cost upwards of $30 million a mile.
Twelve feet not enough for you? OK, so make that wall 100 feet tall and 12-feet thick.
With 16 trillion dollars, that wall would circumscribe the Continental United States.
Sixteen trillion. 16,000,000,000,000. You have to say it over and over for your brain to even get a wisp of comprehension of how big that is.
Got a kid in college? It’s expensive, right? Well, let’s go on a shopping spree and buy some stuff for their college dorm room. Go ahead, see how fast you can spend $16 trillion. You only have a lifetime to do this, so let’s spend $100 million a day.
Nope, not spending fast enough. You’d still need over 400 years!
The Republicans were quick to attack President Obama, blaming him for the National Debt, the Tampa hurricane, and a recent diaper rash found on Governor Jindal’s inner thigh.
Strangely enough, they were fairly quiet when President Bush increased the debt from $5.6 trillion to $10.3 trillion.
That equated to an 85 percent increase in the debt. Funny how politics works, isn’t it? (To tell the truth, I’m not laughing.)
To be fair, both sides are equally to blame. Of course, promises are being made to put the brakes on this insanity, but it’s a sure bet that the National Debt will continue to rise unabated no matter who wins the 2012 election.
Stack 16 trillion one dollar bills and you’d have a pile tall enough to encircle the Earth over 40 times. That’s twice the distance to the moon and back. Sixteen trillion people holding hands would stretch to the Sun and back again — 80 times!
Sixteen trillion should be big enough to make a sensible person cry, and yet it doesn’t seem to bother our leaders. Well, don’t be embarrassed to cry. You’ve got trillions of reasons to do so. It’s a trickle down tragedy.
By the way — 16 trillion human tears would cover a football field (including the end zones), more than 250 feet deep. That’s over 800,000 cubic yards.
Go ahead. Cry. What’s a few hundred more tears trickling down on top of 16 trillion?
Los Alamos Columnist