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When I was a kid I remember wondering if you could get a million dollars in a suitcase. I found out it was really kind of easy. A hundred hundreds ($10,000) has about the same volume as a deck of cards. You can easily get 100 to 125 decks of cards onto a large briefcase and that would be a million dollars. The movie No Country For Old Men gave visual proof to the proposition as the million in the briefcase was the film’s Macguffin. That leads to another thought experiment. How do you visualize a trillion dollars?
How about this? You’re driving down the Interstate in the westbound lane. Up ahead you notice that the two eastbound lanes are blocked. Blocked by briefcases. There are eight to a row. They are evenly spaced three feet apart across the 24-foot road surface. The second row begins 18 inches behind the first and the rows of eight briefcases continues for as far as you can see. Unknown to you each briefcase contains 10,000 one hundred dollar bills. That’s $1 million a case, $8 million a row.
You continue driving for 10 minutes and the briefcases are still there. After half an hour they are still there. At 70 miles an hour, you are passing 272 briefcases every second ($272 million). You continue to drive for an hour and you finally see the end of the columns of briefcases up about a mile in the distance. It takes 61 minutes at 70 miles an hour to clear the last case.
The problem with the above thought experiment is that unless you are Tony Soprano or a wholesale fruit dealer you probably don’t have a lot of experience walking around with a four-inch roll of hundreds held together by an elastic band. Just about everyone used to walk around with a few twenties in their wallet so let’s use those in the next experiment.
Each briefcase now contains $200,000, 100 bound stacks of 100 twenties. Everything else remains the same. You Begin on Church Street in Manhattan and head for the Holland Tunnel. The briefcases are laid out eight across in the oncoming lanes. You get on I-78 and eventually onto I-95. You drive past Trenton, NJ, and the cases keep coming. You continue past Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington and they are still there. You are driving past nearly $55 million each second and will continue to do so until you are on the far side of Richmond, VA.
But that’s only a trillion dollars. To see 4 trillion dollars more you’ve got to get back on the interstate heading west at 70 miles per hour. You will pass Charlottesville (what would Jefferson think), Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Texarkana, Dallas, and Waco. You will finally see the end of the cases in Temple, TX. With pit stops you will have been on the road nearly 24 hours since Richmond.
Trillion used to be an astronomic or geologic number. It was used in conjunction with light-years or calculating the volume of Lake Michigan. Now it’s just the cost of a few government programs. By the way, at $200 a briefcase, it would cost $1 billion to buy the New York to Texas briefcases.Published in