# How Much Is \$1 Trillion?

Now that the the T-word — trillion — is regularly being bandied about in economic discussions, it’s worth having some sense of how much money that is. After all, these sums can be too huge to comprehend. We shouldn’t let the abstraction distract us from the fact this is real money that someone will have to pay off somewhere down the line. Probably our kids.

The folks at Gizmodo have posted a picture from a computer graphics specialist that shows how much \$1 trillion is if you had stacked up \$100 dollar bills. That little dot in the bottom corner is a human, so that should give you a little perspective.

Of course, we don’t really think of money as stacks of cash. Our only reference points are the big cash piles that the winner of the World Series of Poker.

So here’s a much, much better way of thinking about a trillion, courtesy of James Hamilton at Econbrowser:

A trillion dollars is about the total amount collected in income taxes by the U.S. federal government in fiscal year 2006– \$1.04 trillion, if you’re curious to use the exact number. That gives me a simple rule of thumb for personalizing these numbers. If I want to know what an additional trillion dollars in government borrowing or spending will mean for me, I just imagine what it would be like to pay twice as much in federal income taxes for one year.

So, for example, with the President’s proposed budget calling for deficits of \$1.75 trillion for 2009 and an additional \$1.17 trillion for 2010, after 3 years of paying twice as much as I paid in 2006, I’d have about paid off my share of the bill for the first two years of the proposal.

So there you go. If someone says they want to spend another \$1 trillion on anything, just think that your taxes would have to double to pay for it. That makes the mind-boggling sum a lot clearer.