How much is $700 billion?

Published on Sunday, September 28, 2008 in , , ,

Sears Tower in US penniesUS$700 billion, the proposed amount of the financial institution bailout, is a big number to wrap your head around. Just how much is US$700,000,000,000?

First, let's think of it in terms of grains of salt. A tablespoon of salt contains roughly 100,000 grains of salt. A 1/2 cup of salt contains about 1 million grains of salt. How much is 700 billion grains of salt? Picture an average public school classroom filled up about 70% (between 2/3 and 3/4) of the way with salt! Even on senior prank day, that would result in immediate suspension.

Even more fun, think of getting this $700 billion in pennies - that's 70 trillion (with a t) pennies!

First of all, getting 70 trillion pennies would be impossible, as if you were to total all the various pennies minted by the US government since 1787, that would "only" come to 300 billion pennies (by most estimates). About a third to a half of those are either lost, destroyed by the mint, or are otherwise no longer accepted as legal tender (and probably in the hands of numismatists). That leaves about 140-200 billion pennies still in circulation, or $1.4 to $2 billion dollars in pennies. The US would have to be in existence for another 513 centuries (not years, centuries) before we'll have minted 70 trillion pennies!

Back to our main question, how many is $700 billion in pennies?

According to the MegaPenny project, it would take a stack of two trillion, six hundred twenty-three billion, six hundred eighty-four million six hundred and eight thousand pennies (that's 2,623,684,608,000 pennies or $26,236,846,080 - just over $26 billion) to build a life-size replica of Chicago's Sears Tower, ignoring the antennas on top.

Think about this: You could use $700 billion in pennies to create 26 complete, full-size replicas of Chicago's Sear's tower! And you would still have more than US$17 billion dollars (US$17,842,001,920 to be exact) in pennies left over!

According to the official US population clock, the US population at this writing is slightly less than 305.3 million people. If you divide up the remaining US$17.8 million up among all those people, you could send them more than $58 each!

What would happen if we simply divided up the full $700 billion among the current US population, without creating Sears Towers replicas? Each person would get US$2,292.82!

Now, since the proposed $700 billion bailout is money being taken from you, not given, this last amount is an even more interesting number to remember.

Think of it this way: Instead of just letting these companies fail, having stockholders remove the people who made the bad decisions in the first place, and have the companies slowly try to rebuild their reputation among stockholders and customers, everyone in the US, for only about $2,300 each, can keep the people who made the poor decisions in place, and give them completely new money with which to make those same bad decisions!

Gee, what a bargain.

Update (Oct. 2, 2008): You can find even more visualizations of 700 billion in Part II of this post.

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3 Response to How much is $700 billion?

Seb G
10:55 AM

>That leaves about 140-200 billion pennies still in circulation, or $1.4 to $2 billion dollars in pennies.

that wouldn't be $1.4 to $2 *billion* but rather million.

11:05 AM

100 pennies = 1 dollar, so you only divide the number of pennies by 100 to get the number of dollars. 140 billion divided by 100 would be 1.4 billion.

To get 140 million you'd have to divide 140 billion by 1,000, not 100.

12:42 PM

that's a whole lot of money