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A trillion dollars to consider

Thom argues we should be alarmed by the exploding federal and provincial debts
For Your Consideration

Canada’s debt will reach $1 trillion this year.

Should we be alarmed?

Aside from the usual fiscal conservative voices, we don’t seem to be.

What is working in the government’s favour is humans are astonishingly bad at conceptualizing very large numbers.

This makes a lot of sense since for the vast majority of us, in our day-to-day lives, our need for understanding numbers has not progressed much beyond that of our ancient ancestors. How many goats do I need? How many do I have? How many people in my village? How many tigers in the area want to eat my goats?

Even 1 million is a large enough number to give us trouble, although we can grasp it well enough to know if we had $1 million we would be very well off indeed.

So just how big is 1 trillion? Part of the problem for our brains is that we think incrementally. One, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000, 1 million, 1 billion, 1 trillion. But these increments are not linear, they are logarithmic. A billion is a thousand million and a trillion is a thousand billion.

To put it in context, 1 million seconds is approximately 11 and a half days. A billion seconds is almost 32 years. A trillion seconds is 32,000 years. That takes us back to approximately 19,000 years before we even started keeping goats.

Getting back to money. If we started out our lives with $1 million (not considering inflation) that would be about $34 a day over an average lifespan of around 80 years. That’s not even enough to live on (about $12,000 per year).

If we started with a billion, though, that would be $32,000 a day. Over 80 years.

According to Forbes Magazine there are now 2,755 billionaires in the world controlling a combined wealth of $13.1 trillion.

The richest, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ($177 billion), could give 1,000 people $1 million today and he would still have $176 billion.

That is obscene.

In any event, $1 trillion over 80 years is $34 million a day. Could you live on 34 million a day?

It’s mind-boggling.

A $1 trillion debt for Canada is $26,603 for each and every one of us. And that’s just the federal debt.

B.C.’s debt is now more than $75 billion. That’s another $14,858 for each of us

Should we be alarmed?

The short answer is, yes, very.

Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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