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What does one trillion dollars look like? (pagetutor.com)
142 points by pama 2030 days ago | hide | past | web | 43 comments | favorite

Pffft! They're aiming low. I have one hundred and fifty trillion dollars[1] sitting right here on my desk. A 100 trillion dollar bill and a 50 trillion dollar bill :)

[1] Admitedly its out-of-circulation zimbabwe dollars that would be worth maybe $5 if it were still in circulation. Heres what one hundred trillion dollars looks like: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3e/Zimbabwe_%2410...

Okay, Lets go for an easier representation of this scale. The author states that 100 Million dollars fits on a standard pallet. If we take a standard us pallet[1], we find that within a standard container[2] we can fit 9 pallets[3].

There fore One Trillion Dollars will fit into 1 000 000 000 000 / (9 * 100 000 000) = 1111.111... containers. Lets round up to 1112 for the sake of transportation convenience.

If we take a large container ship like the COSCO Guangzhou[4] we can see that it will cary 9450 TEU[5] containers.

As you can see one of these large ships can carry 9450/1112 = 8.499 container loads of trillion dollars.

From this we can see that I expected a large container ship to carry much less, so my conclusions is kind of out the window. Damn that is a big ship.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallet#ISO_pallets [2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-foot_equivalent_unit [3]http://www.epal-pallets.org/uk/produkte/vergleich.php [4]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COSCO_Guangzhou [5]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-foot_equivalent_unit

That's a boatload of money.

That's a good thought on how to represent the volume, though. A 1000 TEU ship is a medium size feeder. A bit of googling around gets me the Logan James, 1055 TEU: http://smithholdingsgroup.com/Shipping.html

A trillion dollars fits on a ship of roughly that size.

How many times could you ship the dollars on that ship before you ran out of money?

If the price of oil was stable it might be possible to answer this....!

And a more contemporary representation of size: one trillion fits into 40 bits. This message, on the other hand, takes up 1200 bits (assuming ascii).

There are in fact less than $1tn in circulation as currency. Most of it is in bank accounts or money titles, depending on your definition of 'money'.

Currency in circulation: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/CURRENCY

M1: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/M1

M2: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/M2

MZM: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MZM

That's exactly what I was thinking upon reading the article. When talking about billions of dollars of deficits or stimuli, it's not cash or even gold equivalent we're talking about. It's virtual, based on a gentleman's agreement between banks. Most of the money is created by banks, when people like you and me come to them for a loan or a mortgage.

So the conclusion of the article is false:

"the next time you hear someone toss around the phrase "trillion dollars"... [1.5 acres of double-stacked pallets of $100 dollar bills] is what they're talking about."

That's interesting. That puts hard currency at about one half of November's $1.8tn M1 estimate. I've always assumed that currency represented a much larger portion of the M1.

So, in perspective, USA gross national product (annual) is $14 trillion, so 14 of those (acres or football fields of pallets would have been a better reference).

USA annual defense spending is $1.35 trillion (more than every other country on earth combined). This does not include the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (hidden in "emergency spending", basically debt sold to China) or the huge medical expenditures to keep tens of thousands of wounded soldiers alive for years after.

Wow, it must be a slow day on HN...

I know exactly what you mean, and most of the time I catch myself thinking that it's on a weekend. Possible explanations:

1.) The people that post more technical stuff do so from work and don't use HN as much on weekends.

2.) Everyone is in "weekend mode" and wants to post more fun stuff.

3.) I am in "weekend mode" and my desire to click on fun stuff is biasing my impression of what is posted.

Previously discussed here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=511285

I find the most useful way to visualise a trillion dollars (when we're talking about US Government spending (which is generally the only time we hear about trillions of dollars) is to just visualise $3,257 in the hands of each of the 307 million people in the United States.

You'd have to visualize that quickly though. $3200 in the average persons hands would last about 10 minutes.

A billion dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? A trillion dollars.


This same comment was made a few days ago and it was down voted.

And it should be downvoted now, before we devolve into a community where the first dozen comments are people being (or most likely: trying to be) funny.

But it's edw519! /sarcasm

But...but..you didn't give anyone a chance to say "You?" and their girlfriend turn and look annoyed!

I'm not as concerned about what a trillion dollars looks like as I am with what a hundred million looks like. Once I get the pallet-sized stack, then trying to do something about the warehouse-sized stack is probably a lot more realistic.

Pedantic-police: The $1-million little pile there has 10 bundles of $10,000 - that's not 1 million. (or are my eyes deceiving me?) Don't have the patience to figure out if that error is propagated to the rest...

No, it's $1 million.


It's just that dollar bills look pretty small next to feet. The perspective also makes it look smaller.

It's 5 bundles deep and 2 wide, but also 10 high (about 5 inches). So I guess your eyes are deceiving you.

You're totally correct. It appears every picture in this article is off by a large factor.

One million dollars takes up several duffel bags. Here's a picture I found that I can't verify but HuffPost thinks it's true:


Even if it's not 100%, it's much closer to that than the size of two shoes. Here is a picture from the same article of 100 million:


Not even close. A packet is 100 bills; a packet of $100 bills is ten thousand dollars. Just a rough count of the front face of what you see in that picture will tell you that there is either more than a million there, or that the centre of the main block is hollow. Think of it this way (in a very lossy fashion): a crisp, new bill is not too very different in thickness from a premium sheet of inkjet paper. A US bill of current issue is 2.61" by 6.14", so four of them can be printed on a letter-size page with a lot of trimming waste (42% waste -- but it's the best packing you can get on letter). A ream of paper is 500 sheets, so with a whole lot of waste, a pile of paper about the size of a ream of ordinary office paper is $200,000 dollars. Paper is ordinarily sold in boxes of ten reams, and if you are familiar with the standard size box of office paper, well, you are familiar with something that is 42% bigger than is needed to hold two million dollars in $100 bills.

...10 bundles of $10,000...

The text right next to the picture says 100 bundles of $10,0000.

A trillion dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? The willingness to take on hordes of debt to obsessively work on building something you, and others, will love.

This week on This American Life they are asking "what exactly is money?"


it would look more impressive vertically stacked... it didn't make me think that one trillion is particularly huge.

Have you ever stood on a football field or acre of land?

Imagine that full of pallets of $100 bills.

To me that's quite a visual, vertical has no spacial reference.

UPDATE: I did some quick calculations and if my math is right, it's more like over THREE acres for a single stacked pallet. Double stacked as in the image would cut it down to just over 1.5 acres.

No, I agree. Stacked vertically would have a much more dramatic visual effect, which is what I assume the author is going for. I remember when I was younger I saw a diagram of different types of computer storage stacked into piles. I think it might have been the number of floppies in a CD, then a DVD, but I can't really recall... anyway, it was impressive.

I'm wondering if you live in a city with tall buildings (I don't) so we have different points of reference?

To me, large amounts of land are definitely more distinctive than vertical, especially when it takes you a long amount of time to walk across, you get the perspective of your small size in comparison.

Let's say the stack was twice as high as the empire state building, does that really give you perspective? To me that would be meaningless, I have no understanding of such height.

Ok, so imagine ten thousand of those pallets stacked on top of each other.

I like it better this way as it's a realistic scenario; it's the way it would appear if it had to physically be stored somewhere.

Why doesn't the picture show 300 million little guys standing next to all the money?

I haven't had my coffee yet, so help me out. The pile of $100 million seems more than 100 piles (or 10 rows of 10 piles) of $1 million to me.

I think a trillion dollars looks like this:


They considered making a trillion dollar bill but The Simpsons already did it.

One trillion is nothing. It's a quadrillion of accounting debits that've been lost -- or which actually never existed due to massive fraud.

That site is really, really awful.

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