January 15, 2013
A few years ago at a TED conference in Long Beach, California, Juan Enriquez, the founding director of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard Business School, gave an amazing talk about the nation’s debt crisis. He made the point that “if we don't start paying attention to the deficit, we're going to end up losing the dollar. And then all bets are off.
“Let me show you what it looks like,” Enriquez said. “I think I can safely say I’m the only trillionaire in this room. This is an actual bill. And it's 10 trillion dollars. The only problem with this bill is it's not really worth very much. That was eight bucks last week, four bucks this week, a buck next week. And that's what happens to currencies when you don't stand behind them.”
Most of us can’t imagine the scope or volume of a million, let alone a trillion. For example, if you were to imagine 40 trillion gallons of water, you’d probably be at sea, so to speak. But if I told you that 39.75 trillion gallons of water make up Lake Tahoe, you’d have a pretty good idea of the volume. Flip the question and it’s still baffling: How many pennies would fill the Empire State Building, including the stairwells and elevator shafts? One mathematical equation estimates 1,818,624,000,000.
We decided to demystify the idea of a “trillion,” since it comes up often enough when we talk about the fiscal crisis. We found some surprising ways you can explain this gigantic number to your family and friends, explained in a fun slideshow. Share it with friends at the water cooler or on social networks.