When I was a kid, annual government budgets, world spending on this-and-that, and such were discussed in millions and billions. Nowadays we get trillions rolled out regularly. You get the impression, though, that few people have any emotional grasp of just how huge a trillion actually is. Think of it this way:
Take a look at an ordinary (metric) ruler. Specifically, look how small one millimetre is.
- 1,000 (1 thousand) mm = 1 metre (3' 31⁄3" )
- 1,000,000 (1 million) mm = 1 kilometre (0.6 miles).
- 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) mm = 1,000 (1 thousand) kilometres (621 miles).
- 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) mm = 1,000,000 (1 million) kilometres (621,371 miles).
So a trillion is to a billion, what a metre is to a millimetre.
The old British system gives them slightly more intuitive names; a modern/American billion is one thousand million. A modern/American trillion would have been called a billion, but could be expressed as one million million! Kinda puts the figures into perspective, don’t it.
Oh, and to give some sense of scale to this; the circumference of the Earth at the equator is 40,075 kilometres. At a dollar a millimetre, 1 trillion dollars would take you around the world just under 24,953,213 times.
Here’s the thing, though. With international debts now being expressed in cumulative trillions, yet world population being expressed in very low billions, it would seem that, on average, every person on the planet has debts—personally or via their representative governments—to the tune of thousands of dollars. Is it just me, or have we reached the point where, at a personal level, that kind of finance leaves me wondering just who in hell, given the interconnectedness of word-markets and such, we owe all this seemingly conjured-from-thin-air money to?
Here’s some rather depressing figures:
- Worldwide military spending: $1.6 trillion.
(Cost of nuclear weapons—which have only been actually used in warfare twice, in 1945—worldwide per year: $100 billion).
(Cost of one M1 Abrams tank: $621 million. Around 9,000 of this model of tank alone, have been produced and sold.)
- Worldwide governmental spending on medical research seems amazingly hard to find a figure for. Seems to be in the ballpark of $100-$200 billion, though.
- Cost of drilling a well to supply water for an average-sized community in sub-Saharan Africa: $3,000.
- Worldwide spending on space exploration: $35 billion.
I spent half an hour trying to find figures to work out how much revenue would be made if churches paid the same taxes as any other organisation, even taking charitable work into consideration. I gave up. If the figure wasn’t in the high billions or low trillions, though, I’d be very much surprised.
Note how expensive, by an order of thousands of times its nearest rival, the most expensive item on that list is. I’ll leave you, gentle reader, to dwell on that rather unpleasant picture of the human race’s priorities…
Read Full Post »