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What’s a Billion?

picture comparing numbers
It's hard enough for me to get my mind around one million, but to try to understand the concepts of a billion or a trillion is beyond my finite mind. (You math teachers out there, please be patient with me and thank the Lord that He wanted me to be a French professor instead!)

A million is a hard concept to grasp. Did you know that a stack of a million one dollar bills is about 358 feet tall?! I read somewhere that for a person to count out loud from 1 to 1,000,000 it would take 23 days, counting day and night, without breakfast, lunch or dinner, without sleep, television, a phone call or a bathroom break!

Here are several more concrete comparisons of a million, a billion, and a trillion:

A million seconds is 12 days.
A billion seconds is 31 years.
A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

A million minutes ago was 1 year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago
A billion minutes ago it was the year 107 AD.
A trillion minutes ago was over 1,900,000 years ago!

[added the evening of October 2 - for a really clear comparison of a million and a billion, take a look at Andrew's comment to this post]

Between World War I and World War II, Germans had to deal with astronomic numbers daily because inflation was so high and their currency was so devalued. It cost 200 billion Marks to buy one loaf of bread! Imagine having to deal with numbers like that! You can read a very good article about it by clicking here. Here's a picture of a German one billion Mark bill from 1923:

Whatever you want to say

Evolutionists throw the words million and billion around pretty freely. Here's a story I love that highlights that:

Tourists in the Chicago Museum of Natural History were amazed at the dinosaur bones. One of them asked the guard, "Can you tell me how old the dinosaur bones are?"

The guard replied, "They are three million four years and six months old."

"That's an awfully exact number," said the tourist. "How do you know their age so precisely?"

The guard answered, "Well, I was told that the dinosaur bones were three million years old when I started working here, and that was four and a half years ago."


Lately politicians are throwing the word billion around like it's chump change. The following article is from the website of one of our local TV stations WYFF 4:

If the $700 billion price tag attached to the bailout plan that failed sounds like a lot, well, it is.

You can spend $700 billion in a lot of different ways. For instance, you could buy a war — the U.S. has spent $648 billion on the war in Iraq so far.

That much money could ensure universal health care coverage for six years or upgrade the country's most deficient bridges four times over. Or you could build 1,750 bridges to nowhere. Surely all of those would eventually take you somewhere.

With $700 billion you could easily run Denmark, which had a paltry gross domestic product of $312 billion last year.

That much money could also pay back every single outstanding student loan, fund the national intelligence budget beyond 2020, or help the Gulf Coast recover from five Hurricane Katrinas.

The next time you hear a politician use the word billion in a glib, casual manner, you might want to think about how wisely politicians are spending your tax money. I guess if you can be glib about a billion, what's a measly $700 billion bailout?! It's just 700 of those billion-thingies....

Several people have expressed their thoughts about the bailout in their comments to my post the blame game. I'd be interested in reading what my readers think about the prospect of our government bailing out these failing businesses.


"The certainty that Messiah reigns produces calm in the face of current affairs, patience with the events of one's own life, satisfaction with the Lord's management of all things, expectancy that a glorious future is coming, and confidence in the One who sits upon the throne." - Walter Chantry

=^..^= =^..^=

"The god of the 'American Dream' doesn't seem to be coming through right now." - Dr. Drew Conley

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9 Comments on “What’s a Billion?”

  1. #1 Vikki
    on Oct 2nd, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I think we’ve become so used to hearing these kinds of numbers over the years that we’ve become desensitized to just how huge $770 billion really is. Especially when you hear about people like good ole Billy Gates who was recently knocked down to the world’s third richest man because he only has a measly $58 billion! http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/06/business/buffett.php

    When I was a kid, hearing that someone is a millionaire was really impressive. Now, we tend to think that a million sounds like nothing – even the lotteries are shelling out more than that.

  2. #2 Rob
    on Oct 2nd, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    @Vikki – I agree that I’m at least a little desensitized because I hear million (now billion) so much that it seems in some way normal. But part of my numbness is that the enormity doesn’t really register with me – it’s so out of my usual frame of reference! It’s kind of like trying to empathize with a friend who has lost a parent when you’ve never lost one yourself. Once you do lose a parent, you suddenly realize very how hard it must have hit your friend when he lost his parent and how hollow your words may have rung. I can’t even think in terms of millions, billions, or trillions when my frame of reference is so totally in the hundreds and the occasional low thousands. 🙂

    When I first heard of people building half-a-million- to one-million-dollar houses a few years back, I could not fathom going into that kind of debt with a hope of paying it off in this lifetime! (And I still cannot fathom it!) Hey, maybe I’m not part of the problem in the current mortgage crisis after all!

  3. #3 Andrew
    on Oct 2nd, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    I recently read a story of a professor who started a college physics class by drawing a line across the entire blackboard and marking one end “0” and the other as “1 billion.” He then asked students to identify where on the line 1 million would fall. Most students put 1 million about 1/3 of the way across the board. The professor proceeded to demonstrate that, in fact, the 1 million point is nearly on top of the zero, since 1 million is 1/1000th of the way to 1 billion.

    Someone also recently pointed out that the American economy usually spends over 700 billion a week.

    I think our politicians have done a poor job of defending their bailout plan. Compounding the problem is the media’s inability to clearly articulate the situation and their ideological bent toward certain types of solutions. Further, the average American has only a cursory understanding of economics and large-scale business. Much of what is happening no longer makes sense to people who would have trouble balancing a checkbook.

    I think the fundamental political problem is that the American people don’t trust politicians to do the best thing for the country. Even though many supposedly informed people support the plan, Americans are very nervous about the amount of money and politicians’ track record. Until Americans trust their government again, it’s unlikely that they’ll support such an enormous increase in government control.

    Ultimately, there are too many things that politicians and businessmen can’t control. None of them could stop a hurricane or even redirect it. None can make it rain or make it stop raining. None can see the future. Somehow, it doesn’t make sense to trust them when there is an alternative Who can do all of those things.

  4. #4 Rob
    on Oct 2nd, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    @Andrew – That’s a good example you gave of the relationship between a million and a billion.

    I agree with you about the lack of trust that we have for our government. When politicians lie to us and lie to us, it’s very hard to trust them. I was very disappointed in McCain for voting yes for the Senate version of the bailout. He has “gone on the record” that, when he’s president, he will veto bills that come to him full of pork. Yet he just voted yes on the bailout bill that is chocked full of pork!

  5. #5 Bill
    on Oct 3rd, 2008 at 5:47 am

    The German Mark reminded me of a story Mrs. Long told us in class one day. She said her family had bought a nice rug for their home, but decided the next day to return it. That night the Mark was devalued again and the money they got back was then only about enough for a cup of coffee!

  6. #6 Ray
    on Oct 3rd, 2008 at 10:22 am

    With all the talk lately of billions of dollars, I came across this website some time ago that helps one understand just how big a given quantity is using lowly a penny for scale.


  7. #7 Rob
    on Oct 4th, 2008 at 7:09 am

    @Bill – I remember Frau Long telling us stories like that of her life between the world wars. Thanks for sharing that one!

    @Ray – Thanks for the link. Yet another way to visualize just how much a billion is.

  8. #8 Uwe
    on May 26th, 2009 at 5:31 am

    One little correction may be allowed: In German 1 Billion is not the same as in English. 1 Billion / German is 1,000 billion / English or 1 trillion / English. 1 billion / English is called in German 1 Milliarde. This fact shows that the financial situation in Germany after the first world war was worse yet. (Sorry for my perhaps incorrect English.)

  9. #9 Rob
    on May 26th, 2009 at 6:00 am

    @Uwe – Thank you for adding that information. You are right — that makes the financial situation one thousand times worse! It’s good to hear from you, Uwe. 🙂