Debt numbers boggle the mind

March 14, 2009

All of a sudden, a billion dollars doesn't sound like very much anymore.

Not when you compare it to the incredible numbers that have been tossed around in the past year.

First, the Bush administration passed a $700 billion mortgage foreclosure rescue plan. No one is sure where that money went.

Then, the Obama administration got Congress to pass a $787 billion economic stimulus package.

Last week, Congress OK'd a $410 billion spending plan.

Media outlets have begun using the "B" sign to signify "billion." The headlines read, "$378B stimulus package passes." They don't want to use all those pesky zeros; they take up too much space.

But if you want to see that figure in print, it is $787,000,000,000.00. I included the .00, but I don't think there was any loose change involved.


Of course, if we used $787,000,000,000.00 in a one-column headline at The Herald-Mail, we would have to put it in agate-size print or it wouldn't fit.

Then, there are the billions that were given to the auto giants and the many more billions of taxpayer money that went to bailout AIG, Citigroup and you name it.

And let's not forget the $50B Bernie Madoff is accused of losing from his clients' investments.

It makes you dizzy just thinking about these numbers.

Someone said today's billion is yesterday's million.

If that's the case, then we will have to update some of the old TV shows if they ever bring them back. It will be "Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?" and "The Six Billion Dollar Man" and more recently in film, "Slumdog Billionaire."

Some phrases we use also will have to be updated. When someone helps you move, it will be, "Thanks a billion" and when your wife gets a new hairdo, "Honey, you look like a billion."

I heard one congressman say, if you spent a million dollars every day from the day Jesus was born to today, you wouldn't be able to spend all the money the U.S. has spent to get a projected $3 trillion debt. I guess we will be using $3T in the future for trillion and $3I for the debt in 2020. "I" would be for infinity. "The national debt climbed to $5 infinity today."

We used to joke as kids, "I'll bet you a million, trillion." That's no joke now. Is zillion really a number? I guess it would look like, $1,000,000,000,000,000. Is that enough zeros? I can't get my head around that number. How many zeros are in infinity?

Someone said if you took the money from the $3T national debt and stacked $1 bills, it would reach a third of the way to the moon. That's a lot of stacking.

I actually heard someone say if they won $1 million in the lottery, they might not be able to retire.

I don't know about that, but it would make life a million times easier. No, make that a billion times.

Tony Mulieri is community editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7647, or by e-mail at

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