How Much is a Quadrillion, and Why Should You Care?

April 14, 2009 at 6:08 pm 16 comments

by John Young

As a scientist and engineer, I’m one of a relatively small percentage of the population that regularly works with numbers of this magnitude. When I heard that the Obama administration’s latest budgets could leave us indebted to the tune of 1.25 QUADRILLION dollars, I knew two things. First, I knew this was very very very bad news. Second, I knew that the number was so incomprehensible as to be practically unreal to most folks.

I’d like to make this number somewhat comprehensible in concrete terms.

Across the country, given the so-called “housing crisis,” the average price of a single family home is $204,000. Obviously, it is more in some places and less in others; but that’s the average. There are currently 6.7 billion people on the planet if you count even newborn babies.  1.25 quadrillion dollars is enough to give every single person, including the infants, their own America-style single-family home.

In the United States, there are 53 million students enrolled in public schools from grades K-12.  With 1.25 quadrillion dollars, we could write each of them a check for $23,000,000. With that much money, deposited and earning only 5% interest, each of these students could individually employ 10 teachers each earning $100,000/year in perpetuity. When they are done their K-12 schooling, they could all go to Harvard, stay at the Ritz while attending, buy a brand-new Mercedes every month and still have plenty of spending money without ever touching their principle.

There are roughly 306 million people in the United States if you count illegal aliens and their offspring. With 1.25 quadrillion dollars, we could write every person a check for over 4 million dollars. Since everyone would be a multi-millionaire; there would no longer be issues related to poverty, education, welfare or most forms of criminality.

The thickness of a $100 Federal Reserve Note .0043″.  1.25 quadrillion dollars composed of compressed and stacked $100 bills  would be 848,327 miles high. To put that in perspective, the moon’s average distance from the earth is only 250,000 miles. The circumference of the earth is roughtly 24,000 miles, so that’s enough $100 bills to circle the earth 10 times. And, remember — that’s not laid end-to-end, but tightly stacked one on top of the other.

If we were to use ordinary $1 bills, the stack would reach from here to Venus three times.

On an astronomical scale, 1.25 quadrillion miles is approximately how far light from a star would travel in 212 years.  To put that into perspective, it only takes light about 4.5 years to reach our nearest stellar neighbor, alpha centuri.

In other words, 1.25 quadrillion dollars is a truly staggering amount of money.

Unfortunately, while I’ve been describing what one could do with that much money as an asset — all of that money is going to be a DEBT. And as a debt, it will take away from our future generations — with interest — everything and more that it could have provided as an asset.

So instead of giving America’s people a check for $4 million; it will be $4 million plus interest extracted from them during their working lifetimes.

A little bit more math should let you see how untenable this is.

The average person works at a primary occupation for 40 years. Usually, wages start low, rise slowly for 10 years, stay at a plateau for about 20 years (called the peak earning years) and then slowly fall  for the last 10 years until retirement.

The Median Wage for Nuclear Engineers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $90,000/year. Assuming that a miraculous engineer earned this much money for all 40 years of his work history, his total lifetime income would be $3.6 million dollars; though, in reality, it would likely be closer to $2.5 million.

Well — if you subtract the $4 million that he owed in taxes from his $3.6 million in earnings; that would leave him having to pay more than he earned. He’d have nothing left over from which he could pay rent, get back and forth to work, put clothes on his back and food on his table. In other words, for all practical purposes he would be unable to survive.

So it is impossible to collect enough taxes to repay that debt; even if every person in America earned $90,000/year.

This is the legacy that Obamunism and the “buy now/pay later” nitwits in Congress are leaving for our children.

But YOU have the power to change that. The only question is whether or not you have the WILL. If you don’t, a $1.25 quadrillion national debt will destroy our civilization. And that is why you should care about what a number that large means.


Entry filed under: Economics.

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16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. cmb  |  April 15, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    No source whatsoever for the 1.25 quadrillion figure? lol Odd behavior for a scientist and engineer.

    John Young responds:
    Normally I don’t approve comments that display the sheer stupidity of the commentator. What I have written is commentary, not an academic paper. If you want to see the material that includes lots of citations, check out my Podcasts which average 20-30 per. Of course, slogging through one of those would require a pretty hefty attention span. Even better, order a copy of Letters From Lepanto from our web store at

    But, meanwhile, any IDIOT capable of using a search engine is capable of verifying the quadrillion figure. Since you are obviously attending a modern college and probably incapable of such dramatic feats as using Google, I’ll do it for you.

    etc. etc. etc. You’ll also find it on the Glen Beck show where he breaks it down so even modern college students can grasp 1.25 quadrillion as factual.

    Fire up google, my son — then read it and weep. There’s hope for you yet.

    • 2. Larry  |  January 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      If Glenn Beck and Worldnetdaily are your sources, the basis for your whole argument go up in smoke to anyone with a modicum of impartiality. You’re a parrot.

      John Young responds:

      And you, Sir, are obviously illiterate. Anyone who reads my body of work beyond just a single posting realizes that Glenn Beck and Worldnetdaily are not typical sources of mine. My average podcast contains over 30 citations from a variety of sources, and far from monolithically right-wing.

  • 3. Nordic Reb  |  June 22, 2009 at 1:53 am

    There, there, Mr. Young, don’t rise to the bait like that. Be patient with the ignorant and softly sarcastic with the provocateurs. The latter drives them nuts *smile*. Also, keep up the good work.

  • 4. Cathy  |  July 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Great job breaking that number down into something I could wrap my mind around (albeit with horror). I think you’re right that most of us just don’t comprehend the enormity of 1.25 quadrillion without attaching it to something more concrete.

    I’m a Republican and not at all keen on the recent government spending, but the Devil’s advocate in me has to ask: is the full 1.25 quadrillion all on Obama’s shoulders?

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think he should be adding ever-increasing amounts to the national debt, just that it seem unfair to describe that debt as something that appeared only when he stepped into the Oval Office.

    John Young responds:

    Hi Cathy!

    You are correct that many who came before Obama, and not just Presidents, but legislators as well, have ultimately contributed to this number. But the bottom line is that the CURRENT holders of office are responsible for deciding whether to continue down the road to oblivion, or change course.

  • 5. cmb  |  December 1, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    You seem to have omitted any mention of the bills from McCain’s ex-campaign-cochair Phil Gramm that got us into this mess – the Gramm Leach-Bliley and Commodities Futures Modernization Acts, and George Bush’s 2003 American Dream Downpayment act, which mandated zero down loans. By the time it hit the fan, I’m told, 40% of government backed mortgages were of this type.

    Once the republican-created economic meltdown and claimed-as-necessary-by-both-sides stimulus fixes are removed, how much has Obama spent?
    John Young Responds:

    While I may have omitted it, please rest assured — the primacy of existence over consciousness guarantees that the effects will be felt nevertheless!

    Please don’t think that by picking on Obama, I am letting his predecessors off the hook. If you look at me writings on economics at; you’ll see pretty clearly that I am no fan of the Bush administration either.

  • 6. stef  |  February 17, 2010 at 1:12 am

    imagine the freedom

  • 7. Ian Mathers  |  November 3, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Much of this analysis assumes that the dollar is going to maintain some nominal value, which it won’t. In my 56 years, I’ve seen the purchasing power of the dollar drop approximately 90% (based soley on what the silver in my old dime will buy today compared to 1965). At independence, the Zimbabwe dollar was worth more than one US dollar. In 2008, a dozen eggs in Zimbabwe cost 500,000,000,000,000 ZD or 500 Trillion dollars. Add a loaf of bread and the total would very likely exceed 1.4 Quadrillion. Debt is never intended to be paid off. It is the excrement of a functioning economy, and should be treated as the waste it is.

    • 8. Ted Slusser  |  March 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      So you’re saying Zimbabwe was a functioning economy? Do you mind if I borrow some money from YOU?

  • 9. Nick Hannack  |  June 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    As of last month, the U.S. national debt was about $14 trillion, a figure which I know to be true despite the fact that I don’t even live in the States. It’s not a quadrillion, and it will probably never hit that number in our lifetimes. Even if it does, a quadrillion dollars then would be worth a lot less than a quadrillion dollars now. Your argument is sensationalist and ultimately unfounded. The simple fact that the debt clock is being enlarged to show up to a quadrillion dollars does not mean that such a large amount of money will ever be spent. If anything, they probably just picked a number so large that it couldn’t possibly be reached before the clock needs replacing as a result of old age.

    I’m a student, and if I were to submit a paper with an argument like the one you’ve posted here, I would get an automatic F. You really need to learn how to not let a political bias generate this sort of sensationalism in your thinking, particularly when you’re posting it in a public forum where uninformed people might take this sort of misinformation as fact. Yes, the amount of money being spent by your current administration is huge, but let’s also keep in mind that $12.2 billion is being spent every month on wars which were started by the last administration. Most of what the Obama administration has put forward have been things which are absolutely necessary for the survival of your nation as an economic superpower, and which were hugely ignored by the Bush administration – an administration which slashed nearly everything, and yet still managed to increase the American debt by 71.9%, before manifesting an economic crisis which nearly plunged the world into a depression on the scale of the dirty thirties.

    Lastly, spending like this is necessary in times like these. 9.1% of your nation’s workforce is unemployed right now (down from 10.2% a year ago, a number which hasn’t been seen since the early eighties). It’s a monumentally bad number; yet large-scale defecit spending has a proven track record of creating jobs and fuelling commercial and industrial expansion. The fact that the unemploymnent rate has dropped a full percentage point in the last twelve months is likely because of this sort of spending. When unemployment is back to regular levels, you can expect the level of government spending to fall at least somewhat proportionally.


    Sorry for my delay approving your comment.

    For a college student, you don’t read well. What I said was: “When I heard that the Obama administration’s latest budgets could leave us indebted to the tune of 1.25 QUADRILLION dollars, I knew two things.”

    This is how much they COULD leave us indebted. Not immediately, but ultimately, once their costs have ultimately fallen on the shoulders of the Republic. So the CURRENT debt (16 Trillion as I write) is not the issue. Although, quite frankly, even that much debt is so large that we dedicate over 20% of the federal budget just to pay the interest, which means that the debt wouldn’t even have to approach a quadrillion to bankrupt us.

    Yes, yes — I am very familiar with your Keynesian economics. And you know what? Corporatist Capitalism leads to massive wealth differentials that destroy demand because people can’t afford to buy what they create and so you have recessions, and using the government to deficit spend or redistribute can offset that to a degree. HOWEVER, at this point if you were to just murder all the billionaires and seize their net worth, it wouldn’t be enough to run our government for a month, so a Keynesian approach creates debts that can never be repaid.

    Keynesian economics are a bandaid. Want a long-term solution that won’t leave us all starving? Check out distributism.

    • 10. damdems  |  November 25, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      Shocking, another idiot that claims wealth re-distribution aka. Keynesian Economics is the way to spend your way our of debt. And this person doesn’t even live here in the states but wants to give advice, so what country do you live in… Greece? Since you have limited time to do any proper research let me help you out.

      If you actually read this post you will find that Keynesian discovered this model was not accurate and he died before he was able to right this information, yet his drones will not report that fact.

  • 11. C. McCord  |  November 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    My first, ever, “Dear John” letter:

    Checked a video regarding Jaguar Super Computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that is purportedly capable of 2.3 quadrillion calculations per second. Checked Google to perhaps get an idea of what “quadrillion” adds up to. Found “How Much is a Quadrillion and Why Should You Care?” Revealed not only examples I could (sort of) grasp…but also revealed John Young. Thank you for your clarity and reason in examining a whole host of issues that the loss of common sense in our culture has so adversely affected. You’re brilliant.

  • 12. piffiest  |  January 19, 2012 at 2:44 am

    does this mean that anybody with more than 4 million dollars has off-setted the equilibrium and has extracted more wealth than they could ever be worth? also, being the first domino in the concept of crime? so because Kim Kardashian is worth 40 million, that means 10 people will most likely starve to death and never see 1 dollar in their life? hmmm… mind blow, sir. well played.

  • 13. Teddy cleanthes  |  June 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Wow!double wow! Life shows up as a conversation, keep this coonversation goin tiil all peoples of The world do what The Icelandic people did, we The people have The power, The people revolt when they cant buy bread,why wait till it gets to that

  • 14. damdems  |  November 25, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I want to re-blog this post, please add that to this page so I can share with people on my blog site… BTW nice job..

  • 15. damdems  |  November 25, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Reblogged this on DamDems and commented:
    Just when you think a trillion was a lot of money we are crossing the threshold of a whole new axiom.

  • 16. RedTez  |  February 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    It’s long been accepted by financial think tanks around the world that the liquidity black hole in the financial sector is conservatively estimated at between 2 to 3 quadrillion dollars and some say it is probably as much as 4 and rising exponentially – dont seem to hear you squeeling like a lil piggy when its the system of the rich that is in so much damn debt – capitalism has been turned into fraud – i would sooner see 1 quadrillion if your analisis is indeed acurate spent on the less well off than pumped into more fat rich mens sticky pockets.

    PS the dreadful day of the lord is fast approaching – then neither your gold nor your silver will save you!!

    Best Regards ALL


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