Twenty Trillion

Twenty Trillion


I have a guilty pleasure. Well, I have many, but this is one that I am willing to admit to. I love watching the national debt clock. It is a full page of numbers flickering the total US debt broken down in any number of ways. It is as mesmerizing as a 60’s lava lamp with the exception that there is real information there. Or is there? The unit of measure of the national debt is a trillion. But what does that mean?

If I say something using terms that are not understandable, then have I conveyed any information? A trillion is a number that is not understandable to me. I know how many zeros follow a one to make up a trillion. What I don’t know is what that number means. If I had to go to the store and buy a trillion toothpicks, would I go in my mid-size suv, a pickup truck or an eighteen-wheeler? Are there even a trillion toothpicks in existence in the world at any one time?

When I was young, accumulating a million dollars was a lofty goal that only the most successful people could achieve. Today, very few people would not have their lives changed if they suddenly came into a million dollars. The number of people who have actually put their hands on a million dollars at one time is probably very small. But if I had to go to the bank and get a million dollars, how big a vehicle would I need? As it turns out, I could go get it on a bicycle and a small shopping bag. This is what a million dollars looks like in one hundred dollar bills:


The new benchmark of serious wealth is a billion dollars. Now that is some serious cheddar. I can honestly say I do not know anyone that has a billion dollars. Nevertheless, I do wonder how they would transport it if they had to. It appears as though they would need a small moving van to get it done. Here is what a billion dollars looks like:


However, my quest is to understand what a trillion of anything would look like, with one hundred dollar bills being the measuring stick I chose simply because I am not certain that there are that many toothpicks in the world. If I had to move a trillion dollars what sort of vehicle would I need. As it turns out it would not be a bicycle or a moving van. Or a semi. I am not certain that your average railroad train could move this much money at one time because here is what it looks like:


By now, I have convinced myself that I do not understand what a trillion is. However, our national debt is approaching twenty trillion. Now twenty is a number I can understand. And here is what fifteen trillion in hundred dollar bills would look like. That was the national debt five short years ago.


Here is my conclusion: I do not understand what the national debt means simply because I do not understand the term used to describe it: Trillion. I will add it to a list of words that are not understandable to me. That list now includes organic, non-genetically modified, non-fiction and trillion. There could be others.



February 9, 2017 · 4:22 pm

3 responses to “Twenty Trillion

  1. Larry E. Burnworth

    This is spot on!!! Fundamentally I think it means we are bankrupt….

    Not pretty….

    I hope all is well in your new digs…. send some photos when you get a chance….

    I am taking Karen to Carmel for Valentines Day…. should be fun!! I have not stayed in Carmel for at least 30 years….

    Hope you are having good weather, we are about to get washed away…. maybe I will just move onto the boat….

    Look forward to seeing you one of these days…. Larry

    Larry E. Burnworth H: 415.453.1128 C: 415.517.7999 e-M:


    • Vern Edgren

      There are approximately 300 million men, women and children in the US. In order to pay off this debt, we would each have to pony up $66,666.66
      I read somewhere that the numbers 666 were some kind of demonic symbol. Now I see a lot of 6’s in $66,666.66


  2. Cindi & Fred

    Come over and visit us in Dana Point.
    Think the Warrens will be around at the end of the month!


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