The size of zero


Have you found yourself in conversations recently, trying to figure out the new fiscal nomenclature?

When we hear about Congress passing stimulus measures that will cost billions of dollars, and when we think about the cumulative impact that recently enacted appropriations bills will have, we are into the rarefied atmosphere of trillions, not billions, of dollars.

Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that we have, perhaps, lost the meaning – and impact – of zeroes and their affect on our economy and our future?

Currently, we’re focused on how these billions and trillions can fix our economy’s immediate future, but let’s think about what $1 million, $1 billion or $1 trillion might look like with a different image.

For example, if you had a stack of $1,000 bills and kept adding to it, when you got to about four inches, you’d have $1 million.

How about $1 billion?

You’d have to keep adding to that stack until you reached 358 feet high – about the same height as a three-story building. For some perspective, our Chamber building is just slightly taller at five stories.

If you want to imagine $1 trillion, that stack would grow to 67 miles high – the length of almost three marathon races.

The most staggering number, however, might be if you tried to imagine the national debt – currently stationed at $10.9 trillion and counting.

That stack would match the distance from Denver to Oklahoma City – 670 miles.

By the way, that number has grown too large for the National Debt Counter clock in New York City’s Time Square to display.

Do you have other images that would help people – perhaps your 5th grader or your elderly aunt Ellen in Centerville, Iowa – understand this new fiscal nomenclature?

I will post my favorite responses to this challenge on my blog.

Google may have anticipated all of this when it named itself in 1998 – after the common misspelling of a Googol.

What is a Googol, you may ask?

At the very least, it’s a number followed by a lot of zeroes. One hundred, to be exact.


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