PBS’s Frontline program Ten Trillion and Counting, sheds light on the enormity of our the national debt. In 2001 – when Bush took office, there was a surplus. Then 911 happened, they took us to war, then proceeded to borrow billions to pay for the war, while cutting taxes. His actions served himself and his administration politically, and not the country economically. I would have gladly paid more taxes, to keep us out of the mess we’re in now. They never reckoned where the money would come from to pay back the borrowed billions. During the 8 years George Bush was in office, the amount of the national debt doubled. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration the national deficit was $10,626,877,048,913.08. By the time he leaves office (if he’s in for 8 years) it will have tripled.
I have trouble imagining what a billion means let alone 1 or 10 trillion. It’s been said that our brains have not evolved enough to really comprehend how much money that really is. In 1979 author Frank Trippit wondered: “…can any imagination get a practical hold on such a quantity? It is easy to picture the symbolic numerals: 1,000,000,000,000. Still, who can comprehend that many individual units of anything at one time? The number teases, dazzles the mind and even dizzies it, but that does not add up to understanding. Biology ought to find out what happens to the brain when it tries to visualize 1 trillion.” (Getting Dizzy by the Numbers, Time Magazine)
Fortunately, we have designers, developers and artists who can help us picture the incomprehensible. Mint.com created visualizations of 1 Trillion dollars, using examples to show how much the money is worth, such as “one trillion dollars can pay an additional 11 weeks of vacation for every American worker.” And here’s another that uses Google sketch that shows the physical scale of the actual dollars. Chris Jordan is making some great images which visualize a specific quantity of consumables such as fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption).
I cannot comprehend Obama’s $775 billion stimulus package, and budget proposals that, if carried out, would produce a staggering $9.3 trillion in total deficits over the next 10 years. As much as I want to believe that Obama is doing the right thing, those numbers really scare me. How can we feed the beast, when we owe so much? Who’s gonna pay for all of this, when so much wealth has been lost and squandered already?