I realize that I've posted an item similar to this several months ago but I thought that, considering the activity in Washington over the past two weeks, it was time to revisit exactly how big the $14.3 trillion debt really is now that it's been page one news for weeks. Most of us have some difficulty even imagining what a million dollars would look like but when a number, particularly one with a dollar sign in front of it, gets into the 14 digit range, we simply have no frame of reference that will tell us what it really means not to mention understanding just how critical the situation is.
Here's the most recent debt to the penny number from the United States Department of the Treasury Treasury Direct website:
Let me type that out: that's $14,342,953,885,641.98. I find it fascinating how there are 14 digits ahead of the decimal point but that the Treasury still knows (or at least thinks that it knows) that they have to tack 98 cents onto the $14.3 trillion figure to maintain complete accuracy. I guess a bean counter somewhere is trying their best to keep the ledger balanced.
Let's take a stack of $100 bills, the largest denomination that most of us usually deal with on a reasonably regular basis. Each bill is 0.0043 inches thick, 2.61 inches wide and 6.14 inches long and weighs about 1 gram. I'm going to focus on the thickness of each $100 bill. It would take 232.6 $100 bills to give you a pile that is one inch thick and if you had a pile that thick, you'd be holding $23,256 in your hand. Let's go back to the debt number; if we took the entire $14.343 trillion debt, converted it into $100 bills, the stack of bills would be 616,740,000 inches high or 51,395,000 feet high or 9734 miles high. The one-way distance between New York City and Los Angeles is 2462 miles. This means that the stack of $100 bills that make up the current sovereign federal debt of the United States would reach from New York City to Los Angeles 3.95 times, nearly 2 round trips. If the $100 bills were laid end to end rather than on top of each other, they would reach 73.39 billion inches or 6.116 billion feet or 1.158 million miles. That would take us around the earth at the equator 4.65 times. That is truly a lot of paper.
Now, lets's see what $14.343 trillion will buy us.
1.) At a list price of $829 for a top-of-the-line 64 GB iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G (my favourite toy), you could buy 1.73 billion units and supply every man, woman and child in the United States with 55 iPads. (using a population of 311,776,483 from the United States Census Bureau). Perhaps then I wouldn't have to share mine with my wife!
2.) At a list price of $72,085, the $14.343 trillion could purchase 198,970,000 base model 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUVs (note that I chose the hybrid model because we are all so environmentally conscious!), supplying each household in the United States with 1.77 Escalades. If you prefer non-domestic vehicles, at a list price of $53,425, each household in the United States would have 2.4 2011 BMW 535i Sedans.
3.) Let's say you want to get away for the weekend. How about a night in a deluxe one bedroom suite at the Four Seasons in Manhattan with a view of the city? At $4750 per night, the $14.343 trillion would buy 9 nights accommodation for every man, woman and child in the United States with enough left over to pay for plane tickets and meals.
4.) At Best Buys regular everyday low price of $4299.98, the $14.343 trillion would buy 10 Panasonic Viera 65 inch Plasma HD televisions for every man, woman and child in the United States with enough left over to pay the sales taxes.
I hope that these examples help all of us better understand the size of the issue facing us. The very thought that Congress and the President are playing partisan politics around the issue of having to increase the soon-to-be-crippling debt level of the United States should frighten everyone around the world, especially since the United States is the nation driving the world's economy. All we need to do is look back at 2008 to see what happened when the day of reckoning arrived for the mortgage backed securities market in the U.S. to see what impact one nation has on the world's economy. While the Democrats and Republicans banter about cutting the deficit, you'll notice that discussions involving paying back the debt never seem to take place. Apparently, those that we elect have no compunction about saddling our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with a burden that we cannot even imagine.