It’s official: The national debt is just under a jillion dollars.
To be precise, it was $10,158,093,898,694.13, as of 10:43:11 GMT on Oct. 5, 2008. (You have to be precise like that with Greenwich Mean Time because the national debt grows by about $36,000 per second. I kid you not!)
Ten trillion is one of those numbers that we in journalism call Really Big. And the way we try to help people understand Really Big Numbers is to stuff they’re already familiar with. So here goes:
Remember using a microscope to look at a blood cell in biology class? Remember how small it was? Well, according to some estimates, there are about 10 trillion cells in the human body. That’s 10 trillion for you.
How about this?
Ten trillion seconds ago, it was 315,000 B.C. and homo sapiens appeared in Africa.
Ten trillion minutes ago, it was the Miocene Period (about 19 million years ago). The world looked pretty much like it does today, except that the continents were much closer together and the oceans were ruled by megalodons (Think “Jaws.” On steroids. With a bad attitude.)
Ten trillion hours ago, multicellular life was evolving (about 1.14 billion years ago). Those were good times.
Ten trillion days ago, well, that would be about 27.4 billions years ago, and the universe as we know it is only about 13.7 billion years old. So we don’t really know what was going on then.
Much like today with the national debt.
If you divided the debt evenly among the nearly 305 million Americans now in the U.S., each man, woman and child would have to pay about $32,787 to clear it. Or a family of four would have to chip in $131,147.54. (Sorry, that ain’t a discount.)
But if we could find a way to divide among the 6.6 billion people on Earth today, each one would have to pay only $1,515.
And if we could divide it among the 100 billion who have ever lived, then each would have to pay only $100.
If only we could tax the dead, we clear this debt in our lifetimes. Hmmm.