$1 Billion is Nothing to Congress, But it is to Most Americans


A million here, a million there, and pretty soon we’ve got real money. So said Illinois’s Sen. Everett Dirksen (left), the long-time Minority Leader during the 1960s. who often reminded his colleagues about how quickly a million here and there added up to enormous sums of public spending.

Today, of course, its billions, and Members of Congress spend that denomination with the ease they used to spend millions. However, do Members or most of the general public have a solid grasp of how large a number a billion actually is?

To put a billion in perspective, we’ve placed nine zeros after the number 1 and (taking our inspiration from a popular email circulating around Internet space this year) have calculated several, hopefully useful ways to grasp the magnitude of “one billion dollars.” Consider the following facts:

-- One billion seconds ago it was 1978
-- One billion minutes ago was 107 A.D.
-- One billion hours ago our ancestors lived in the Stone Age.
-- One billion days ago no-one walked on two feet
-- One billion dollars ago was only 2 hours and 30 minutes at the rate the U.S. government has been spending it.

Imagine, every 2 and a half hours, Congress spends another one billion dollars of taxpayer’s money.

Or, think of how much Louisiana Senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu asked the Federal Government (i.e. taxpayers) for to rebuild New Orleans in 2005. Their legislation requested $250 billion for this modest project. That means:

-- Every man, woman, or child residing in New Orleans could be given $549,616 for $250 billion.
-- Every homeowner in New Orleans could be given $1,162,299 for $250 billion.
-- Every four people could be given $2,198,464.

Even when adjusted for inflation, $250 billion dollars is more than the state of Louisiana cost when purchased during the Jefferson administration. It is one fourth of a trillion dollars.

Of course, a billion here and a billion there pretty soon adds up to trillions of real money. If Members of Congress who spend our hard earned tax dollars have little understanding of how large a billion is, imagine how little they grasp the enormous sum of just one trillion dollars. That’s 1,000 times more than a billion, and Congress this last year authorized trillions of debt-financed outlays for the next several years.

That spinning sound you hear is Everett Dirksen in his grave.


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