A thousand trillion is a quadrillion, which is approximately the number of neuronal connections in the brain between the 100 billion neurons packed inside your head. Fortunately the federal government is no where near budgeting a quadrillion dollars, but $3.8 trillion is no chump change. Just how much is a trillion dollars? Here are some comparisons.
The brain consists of about a hundred billion neurons, which is about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. A hundred billion is a 1 following by 11 zeros: 100,000,000,000. That's about what Obama plans to spend on Veterans Affairs ($57 billion) and Homeland Security ($43 billion) combined. It's a huge number. It is literally an astronomical number. But that's nothing. A trillion is a thousand billion.
Do get a deep intuitive feel for just how much this is, start counting seconds as "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand..." and when you get to 86,400 that's the number of seconds in a day. When you reach 31,546,000 that's the number of seconds in a year. When you get to 315,460,000 you will have been counting for ten years, but you are still not even close. Add another 0 to get to 100 billion, and another 0 still to get to 1,000 billion, and you will have finally reached one trillion seconds. If you make it that long you will have been counting for about 30,000 years. Now, do that 3.8 times and you will have counted out the number of dollars that the Federal government plans to spend in just one year.
To count in seconds the number of dollars in the 2011 Federal budget, you will have to count "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand..." for 114,000 years, which if you were counting backward in time would thrust you back to the time when humans first migrated out of Africa and began to spread across the globe, still living as hunter-gatherers with fairly crude stone tools, competing with Neanderthals and other hominids for survival, and just beginning to show signs of symbolic communication.
If ever there was a symbol to communicate that has no corresponding link to a tangible asset in the real world (such as gold or other precious metals), it is money. That's why it is called "fiat money." The government just declares money to be legal tender, based on the good faith of the Federal government itself.
If that doesn't jolt you back in your chair, consider the fact that at this rate of spending, in ten years the country will be $8.5 trillion in debt more than it already is, which amounts to $34,018 for every man, woman, and child in the country.
Got an extra $34k laying around that you'd like to send to Washington? Me neither. This has to stop somewhere, some time. 2012 is not going to see the end of the world, but it will likely see some major changes in Congress, if not the Presidency itself.
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