Just How much is 16 Trillion?

T.S. Weidler
The U.S. debt clock ticked up over 16 trillion early this morning. Just 10 months ago, I wrote that the clock had struck fifteen trillion. To put that in perspective, The United States government took the first 200 years of its existence to reach one trillion in debt. It has now taken less than 10 months to do it. Once you cross over into the dreamworld of imaginary numbers there is nothing stopping you from making a trillion more of them.

It is hard to say exactly when the United States government lost all semblance of fiscal credibility, but now that we are at 16 trillion it is evident that we are well past it. As my previous article discussed, a trillion is a number that is so large our attempts at hyperbole fall well short of describing it. A trillion is bigger than you think it is. It is bigger than your mind can imagine. Sixteen trillion... Well, that is sixteen times more.

Just to update a few of the points I made 10 months ago:

- 16 Trillion dollars is enough to carpet the entire states of Delaware, Rhode Island, and Florida in dollar bills.

- A stack of 16 trillion dollar bills, laid flat on top of each other, packed down with no space between them would go past Mt. Everest, out of the stratosphere, past the international space station, past the moon, around the far side, and back. Twice.

- 16 trillion dollars laid long ways, end to end with no space between them, would go on past the moon, past Venus, past Mercury, up to the surface of the sun, back to Earth, past Earth, past Mars, around the back side of Jupiter, back past Earth again, and back to the sun. If you travelled this loop, the second time you reached the sun you would still have about four trillion left to toss in the sun. You have to get rid of it somehow.

The 16 trillion hole does not include any entitlements. It is simply the total amount of money that the government spends on its day to day obligations and interest on existing debt. Mark Steyn has estimated that in 2015 our interest payments to China will pay for China's entire military budget. That is the optimistic scenario, assuming interest rates remain artificially low.

It doesn't count the roughly 120 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Why bother counting that? Nobody with an ounce of sense believes it will ever be paid. No reason to even bother. Your retirement plans and your medical plans are in your hands alone. Get used it.

Here is another way to think about the sixteen trillion dollar hole.

You may remember the famous chess competition of 1997, when international chess champion Garry Kasparov was defeated in a six round chess competition by a multimillion dollar supercomputer named Deep Blue. Deep Blue was built by IBM over an eight year period on a virtually unlimited budget. It was capable of processing 200 million calculations per second.

Now, imagine Deep Blue smoking out the vents, straining and grinding its overworked processors for 22 straight hours. That is how long it would take for it to count to 16 trillion, running at its peak capacity.

What I'm trying to say is that in the entire course of human history, we have only in the past 15 years developed the technology necessary to count our own debt. It is bigger than our most gifted human minds can count. Spend it while you can.

T.S. Weidler can be contacted at tsweidler at yahoo dot com


The U.S. debt clock ticked up over 16 trillion early this morning. Just 10 months ago, I wrote that the clock had struck fifteen trillion. To put that in perspective, The United States government took the first 200 years of its existence to reach one trillion in debt. It has now taken less than 10 months to do it. Once you cross over into the dreamworld of imaginary numbers there is nothing stopping you from making a trillion more of them.

It is hard to say exactly when the United States government lost all semblance of fiscal credibility, but now that we are at 16 trillion it is evident that we are well past it. As my previous article discussed, a trillion is a number that is so large our attempts at hyperbole fall well short of describing it. A trillion is bigger than you think it is. It is bigger than your mind can imagine. Sixteen trillion... Well, that is sixteen times more.

Just to update a few of the points I made 10 months ago:

- 16 Trillion dollars is enough to carpet the entire states of Delaware, Rhode Island, and Florida in dollar bills.

- A stack of 16 trillion dollar bills, laid flat on top of each other, packed down with no space between them would go past Mt. Everest, out of the stratosphere, past the international space station, past the moon, around the far side, and back. Twice.

- 16 trillion dollars laid long ways, end to end with no space between them, would go on past the moon, past Venus, past Mercury, up to the surface of the sun, back to Earth, past Earth, past Mars, around the back side of Jupiter, back past Earth again, and back to the sun. If you travelled this loop, the second time you reached the sun you would still have about four trillion left to toss in the sun. You have to get rid of it somehow.

The 16 trillion hole does not include any entitlements. It is simply the total amount of money that the government spends on its day to day obligations and interest on existing debt. Mark Steyn has estimated that in 2015 our interest payments to China will pay for China's entire military budget. That is the optimistic scenario, assuming interest rates remain artificially low.

It doesn't count the roughly 120 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Why bother counting that? Nobody with an ounce of sense believes it will ever be paid. No reason to even bother. Your retirement plans and your medical plans are in your hands alone. Get used it.

Here is another way to think about the sixteen trillion dollar hole.

You may remember the famous chess competition of 1997, when international chess champion Garry Kasparov was defeated in a six round chess competition by a multimillion dollar supercomputer named Deep Blue. Deep Blue was built by IBM over an eight year period on a virtually unlimited budget. It was capable of processing 200 million calculations per second.

Now, imagine Deep Blue smoking out the vents, straining and grinding its overworked processors for 22 straight hours. That is how long it would take for it to count to 16 trillion, running at its peak capacity.

What I'm trying to say is that in the entire course of human history, we have only in the past 15 years developed the technology necessary to count our own debt. It is bigger than our most gifted human minds can count. Spend it while you can.

T.S. Weidler can be contacted at tsweidler at yahoo dot com