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How Much Is a TRILLION?

Article Category: Finance  |   


In a previous article we discussed how much a billion is. It has proven to be a very popular topic. And so we thought - why not feature an article about the next big number up? Here is the result as, in today's article, Becky Kleanthous discusses the trillion.

Who's the richest person you know? Is it your boss, with the flashy car, the shiny shoes and the garlic breath? Or your friend's parents with the pool and the pony and the endless hushed arguments?

How about the richest person on Earth? According to the Forbes rich list of 2017, it's Microsoft founder and (thank goodness) major philanthropist, Bill Gates. Dude's worth $86bn. Let's put it in words: eighty-six billion dollars. Now again in numbers: $86,000,000,000. If he tried to withdraw all his money from the bank, not only would that cause some serious repetitive strain injuries for the cashiers, but his dosh as a stack of $100 dollar bills would reach 55 miles high. Most commercial airplanes fly at 30,000 feet, which is 5.7 miles, so imagine $100 bills reaching ten times higher than the clouds and you'll be getting somewhere close to Bill's fortune.

And now imagine what sum of money could make him look like a pauper. Yes, today, we are talking in trillions.

One hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars
In 2009, Zimbabwe introduced a Z$100 trillion note. Lots of noughts didn't mean lots of value, however. Due to hyperinflation it was only worth about US$30 (£20).

Trillion: a million million

How much is a trillion? Well, it's a million million. A trillion dollars is a million dollars multiplied by a million. Or if you prefer, a thousand billion. It has 12 zeroes: 1,000,000,000,000. Makes your eyes cross, doesn't it?

A trillion:

1,000,000,000,000

If $1million in $100 dollar bills stacks up to 40 inches (3.3 feet: kind of underwhelming to look at, really!), and $1billion is 40,000 inches (that's 0.63 miles high: much more impressive!), $1trillion in $100 dollar bills is 40,000,000 inches high, which is 631 miles. Suddenly Bill's bills seem like small change, at less than 10% of that mighty tower.

A trillion dollars in $100 notes height comparison infographic

Now, Gates might be taking a bit of a roasting here, purely because he's got more money than anyone on the planet. If a trillionaire existed, though, they would be taking the flack instead. In the UK, the average salary is £27,000, so even if Average Joe didn't pay any tax, student loans, rent, food bills, heating, travel bills - or any expenditure at all - it would take them 37,037,037 years to save a trillion pounds. In the US, where the average annual income is around $50,000, saving a trillion bucks (with no outgoings) would take 20,000,000 years. 37 million years, 20 million years... That's a lot longer than humans have even existed, yo.

So, no wonder that trillion is such a gargantuan figure than nobody actually owns it; instead, though, we can look at examples who owe it. Now that's some serious credit card debt!

A bag and piles of money

Trillions of debt

Much of the West has been economically blighted since the huge financial crash of 2008, and indeed, that was a catalyst in the UK's national debt rising from around £0.5 trillion to more than £1 trillion in the space of just 3 years. Currently it's around £1.7 trillion, and climbing.

The USA has a gross national debt (that's government debt and public debt combined) of around $20 trillion. Using $100 bills, they would require a stack of cash that's 760,000,000 inches tall, or 11,995 miles. Even if the kind folk in Australia allowed the pile to begin on their land, and drilled a tunnel through the Earth's core to stack the money all the way through the diameter of the planet until it popped out on the opposite side in Washington DC, it still wouldn't be enough cash (it would be short by about 1/3, in fact).

This fantastic video from Demonocracy shows how monstrous this amount of money is.

So sure, yeah, you started off reading this and feeling nauseous that you don't have Bill Gates' spending power, but you can also rest easy knowing that you don't have someone knocking on your door, looking for trillions-worth of video games and ramen noodles to repossess.

Written by Becky Kleanthous




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Last update: 17 October 2017


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