No. 784



Back in the days when there were still a few statesmen in Congress, we had a senator from the great state of Illinois by the name of Everett McKinley Dirksen (Jan. 4, 1896, to Sept.7, 1969). He served in the House from 1933 to 1949 and in the Senate from 1951 to 1969. There is a famous quote attributed to him, that apparently he never made, that goes, “A billion here and a billion there, and first thing you know you are talking about some real money.” Regardless of whether he ever said that or not, it has stuck with him all these years and it certainly should give us pause, for his use of the word billion.
Personally, I wish he was still around to hear the word “trillion” banded about almost like the term “billion” was in his day. I am so old that I can remember back in the days when a man in our town was reported to be a millionaire, and I was impressed. Today we have almost dropped that word from our vocabulary.
Now, back to the word “trillion.” Have you ever thought about, in terms of money, how much a trillion dollars really is? I have a good example that will give all of us some perspective that I will share before I reach the end of this column, but I have another example that will make you dizzy, if you watch it or dwell on it too long.
If you have not already seen it, there is a web site on the Internet: that will be an eye-opening experience. I must warn you, if you are afraid of heights and have a tendency to have dizzy spells, don’t stay too long. The numbers are going by so fast that it impossible to give any definite figures, because by the time of this writing and the time it actually runs in the paper, the figures will be off by a country mile.
There are a number of different categories but here are a few to give you an idea of what I am saying. To begin, the U.S. National Debt is more than $13 trillion and counting. Debt per citizen – more than $44,000 and counting. Debt per taxpayer – more than $125,000 and counting. U.S. Federal Spending – more than $3 trillion and counting. U.S. Federal Budget Deficit – more than $1.5 trillion and counting. And here is one that is probably the most asinine of all: Interest in the National Debt – more than $3 trillion dollars per year. That is money we give to someone else without getting anything in return.
Back to my earlier question: how much is a trillion? Well, it’s the number 1 followed by 12 zeroes. It’s written like this: 1,000,000,000,000, and our government has spent over 13 of those more than it’s taken in from all sources.
Since we are talking about some real money here, let me share something that was handed out at a meeting I attended the other day that really got me to thinking. Hopefully, it will cause you to think about it as well. As a nation, our elected officials must get this under control because our economic future truly hangs in the balance. The brief article I received had this heading: What’s the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion? Well, a million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 31 years. A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.
Here I feel it necessary to give a brief disclaimer. I did not check these figures. My calculator does not go that high anyway. I just have to trust they are accurate. I do believe, however, the U.S. Debt Clock is right. Granted I am old fashioned, but when you have dug a hole for yourself, it’s time to stop digging.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)