Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Playing ketchup

One of the things that's kind of disheartening about the recent economic bump in the road we're all trying to get through is how cavalier people are about throwing around such astronomically huge numbers.

A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there. Pretty soon, your actually talking about real money.

In fact the government so far has committed $11.6 trillion in financial support to failing businesses (banks, auto companies, insurers, mortgage brokers).

Now, $11.6 trillion doesn't really sound like a lot when you say it like that. I mean, sure it sounds large, but c'mon a 't' is much smaller than an 'm' or a "b" -- right? And besides "trillion" has kind of a pretty sound to it. Kind of like a bird singing.

When you write it out numerically, it has a little more impact: $11,600,000,000,000. Whooo! Look at all those zeros!

But I don't think even writing out all of those zeros gives a really good picture of just how much $11.6 trillion is.

To get a better picture of just how large of a number 11.6 trillion is, I like to convert it into a unit that is a little more familiar to regular working class Joes like me. That's right, I like to think of it in terms of tomatoes.

Your typical household garden variety tomato is about 10 centimeters in diameter. So line up 10 of these sweet, juicy bundles of tastiness, and you're looking at 100 centimeters worth of tomatoes. That's one meter for those of you who are products of the Kansas City Missouri school system.

At 100 tomatoes to the meter, you need 10,000 tomatoes to make a kilometer. This is nice to know, because now you can compare the number of tomatoes in various distances. For example, the distance from my house to the Boulevard Brewing Co. tasting room is about 16.25 kilometers. That's a distance of 165,500 tomatoes.

Of course, 165,500 is infinitesimally small compared to 11.6 trillion. So let's think a little larger. The great state of Kansas is 340 kilometers wide. So line up 3,400,000 (3.4 million) tomatoes side by side and you'll get from KC to Hayes and then some. But it's still only a fraction of the 11.6 trillion.

The United States is about 2,600 miles (from New York to San Francisco). That works out to roughly 4,184 kilometers. So you'll need 41,840,000 tomatoes to get from sea to shining sea. But $41.8 million doesn't even cover the mortgage on Bernie Madoff's second house.

Gotta go larger. Gotta think globally.

So, the circumference of the Earth at the equator is about 40,080 kilometers. Converted to tomatoes, that's 400,800,000. So if you had 401 million tomatoes, you could line them up all the way around the world. That's a pretty big number, but you'll note we haven't even reached a billion yet, let alone a trillion.

Earth to the moon is roughly 363,300 kilometers (at perigee). That works out to 3,633,000,000 tomatoes. So if we line up 3.6 billion tomatoes side by side you'll have a row of veggies stretching to the moon. That's a lot of marinara, but we've still got four decimal places to go before we reach the kind of numbers the bailout architects are talking about.

Going out a little farther, the mean distance from Earth to the Sun is 149,300,000 kilometers -- 1,493,000,000,000 tomatoes. Now we're getting some idea of just how large a number like 11.6 trillion is. Consider this, if you had 11.6 trillion tomatoes, you could line up tomatoes side to side and this resulting line of tomatoes would reach from the Earth to the Sun.

In fact, you would have enough tomatoes to make SEVEN lines of tomatoes from the Earth to the Sun. And you would still have millions of tomatoes left over!

So yeah, 11.6 trillion? That, my friends, is a lot of tomatoes.

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  1. Wow... all I try to do is stretch my dollar to the end of the month.!

  2. Finally, we're talking tomatoes and sexy broads . . . This is financial talk that I can understand.

  3. What an Obama-like move - to use metric system so American people won't know what you are talking about

  4. You Sir, have entirely too much time on your hands. But heck, my 9 year old understood that explanation. So you did good.

  5. Thank you for the lesson. I don't think I can look at a tomato in the same light again.

  6. Its all just make believe anyway. I wouldn't be too concerned. Have you ever seen a dollar bill? Its just a piece of paper painted green. It means nothing. Ever since 1973 when Nixon took us off the gold standard we've been playing w/ Monopoly money. The system serves us--not the other way around. If it fails to lift more boats than its sinks, we'll just adapt.


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