For some time now in Washington, D.C., the amount trillion is used more and more. I wondered how big is a trillion? I finally got a handle on this big number by using time:

• One million seconds = 12 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds;

• One billion seconds = 31.69 years; and

• One trillion seconds = 31,710 years (that is thirty-one-thousand-seven-hundred-ten years!).

In 2020, the US GDP (value of goods and services sold) was $20.93 trillion. The national debt is $28 trillion and rising every second. As with any loan, there is interest that is currently $378 billion per year and rising.

These are the numbers. You can draw your own conclusions.

Harry Ysselstein

Half Moon Bay

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(6) comments

Terence Y

Mr. Ysselstein, with math education these days and with the SM-FC School District attempting to remove accelerated math programs from their school in the name of inequity, your example of the magnitude of a trillion is apropos. Of course these students, and their students, and the students after them will have to deal with the spending spree. Maybe we should instruct these students to become city, state, or union workers as quickly as possible. They can then reap the rewards from “other” non-connected taxpayers.

Ray Fowler

Hello, Harry

Thanks for doing those calculations. They really help, and they show why our elected leaders should not be so cavalier about supporting the nearly two trillion dollar proposal advanced by the president.

Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) said in the 1960s, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." Maybe we should remind our elected leaders that a trillion here and a trillion there adds up to real money.

However, it looks like ol' Ev didn't really make a statement about "a billion here, a billion there... " according to the the Dirksen Congressional Center in Illinois. However, he did argue against raising the national debt ceiling back in the day. So, it's probably a safe bet that he would not support a two trillion dollar stimulus package, today.


No Ray, since Dirksen supported much of the New Deal and is also quoted as having said, "The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion; constitutionality is no match with compassion", it is likely he would support much of the stimulus package today. I also find it highly disingenuous of the right to not support help for the low and middle class in an infrastructure package when it voted into law the $2T tax package that mostly benefitted the rich and did it with nary a whimper about the national debt. Plus, the R's added to the debt during an economy when the nation was better equipped to reduce the debt.

Ray Fowler

More noise...

Looks like you missed the point about Congress approving expensive programs.

FYI... Senator Everett Dirksen voted conservatively on nearly all economic legislation. He would not support today's stimulus package. Yeah, he liked the New Deal so much, he considered running for president during FDR's tenure.


More nonsense..

Dirksen voted for the New Deal. Enough said.

Congress is not treating the deficit cavalierly. They recognize the old saying "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later." Infrastructure is long overdue and will not be cheaper in the future, especially when is critically necessary now. Plus, it has the added benefit of creating a massive number of jobs.

Ray Fowler


The "real money" quote was attributed to Sen. Dirksen (ca. 1962) who served in the Senate throughout the 1950s and nearly all of the 1960s. During his time in the Senate, he voted conservatively on economic issues. It's got nothing to do with House Representative Dirksen in the 1930s when the New Deal was introduced by FDR.

You might want to address your remarks to Harry, the author of the LTE.

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