Celebrating My 2 Billionth Birth-Second: What Big Numbers MeanLet’s see if we can give a clearer, sharper personality to these big numbers
I have lived for over two billion seconds. In 2013, I celebrated my 2 billionth birth-second. The party did not last long.
Today US spending and deficits are going through the roof. References to billions and trillions of dollars of spending and deficit are everywhere. The late US Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois is purported to have said “A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” He said this in the middle of the last century. Today we can replace “billion” in Dirksen’s quote with “trillion.”
Let’s see if we can give a clearer, sharper personality to these big numbers.
A trillion is a thousand times bigger than a billion. If we scale a trillion dollars down to a hundred dollars, for example, a billion dollars would be worth only a dime. A million dollars becomes a fraction of a penny.
Big numbers rhyming with “Brazilian” are vastly different from each other in scale. If a million millionaires meet at a large convention of rich people in Las Vegas, their worth all together is a trillion dollars.
A million seconds is 11½ days. A billion seconds is 31.7 years. A trillion seconds is over 31 thousand years. (I will sadly never celebrate my one-trillionth birth-second.) Having lived about 2300 periods of 11½ days, though, I have celebrated about 2300 birth mega-seconds.
How about big numbers and US spending?
The US population has just exceeded 333,333,333. This is a nice number since it is a third of a billion. So if the US spends a billion dollars, your fair share is $3. Your share of the $54 billion sent to Ukraine is $162 – about $650 for a family of four.
But it’s worse than that. 57% of US households paid no federal income tax in 2021. So the load on per capita taxpayers, spread evenly, can be argued to more than double.
Things get scarier when we are talking about trillions of dollars. A trillion of anything is a lot. A trillion dollars translates to $3000 for each US citizen. That’s $12,000 for a family of four. Double that when excluding those who pay no taxes. Donald Trump’s two trillion dollar stimulus package in 2020 to help the COVID economy doubles this again to $48 thousand per taxpayer household.
What about the national debt? Your individual fair share of the national debt of $31 trillion dollars is $93 thousand dollars. It becomes over $180 thousand dollars when we exclude those who pay no taxes. Multiply by four for a family of four. A taxpaying family of four owes more than the average price of a house in the US ($428,700).
How are we doing in paying off our national debt? The average taxpayer pays $13 thousand in federal tax. The average is a bit misleading because the top 10% of taxpayers earned 48% of the income and paid 71% of federal income taxes. Still, a lot of annual payments would be required to clear the national debt. But we pay nothing. We just keep spending.
There are those that say big deficits are not a big deal. (I tried saying this to my VISA card and it didn’t work.) Even though I am not an economist, these numbers bother me.
So if you are a taxpayer, the next time you hear that the US has spent another $50 billion dollars, remember this: Your share with your wife and two kids is $1200.
And the $1200 you pay in federal income tax is not even tax-deductible.
You may also wish to read: Why infinity does not exist in reality. Robert J. Marks: A few examples will show the absurd results that come from assuming that infinity exists in the world around us as it does in math. In a series of five posts, I explain the difference between what infinity means — and doesn’t mean — as a concept.