Million, Billion, Trillion, Brazilian

When words sound alike, they are connected mentally in ways we don’t fully understand.

While we consciously know they are much different, our subconscious is not so wise, and politicians particularly can use them indiscriminately. For example, million, billion, and trillion roll off the tongue with little differentiation. Even Brazilian could get caught up.

How much is a million?

Actually, not so much as you think. If you could set aside $10,000 per day, you would have a million in 100 days. Barely more than 14 weeks.

A billion will take longer.

A billion is a thousand million, so it will take 100,000 days to get there. That is just short of 274 years. Clearly, they are not similar. I am reminded of a thought attributed to Senator Everett Dirksen. “A billion here, a billion there, and before you know it, you’re talking real money.”

Real money is where trillions live.

A trillion is a thousand billion, so $10,000 per day, it will take 273,973 years to store up a trillion dollars. If the first homo sapiens had started saving $10,000 a day, his descendants would barely have a trillion dollars by now.

A trillion is beyond comprehension.

That tiny fact allows politicians to spend profligately without immediately losing their place. There is no rational, even sane, argument that demands that governments should spend more money. The result is what we see now in many western countries. Huge debt because politicians fear raising taxes. People might question spending if they did.

The United States federal government owes more than $31 trillion and wants to increase its borrowing limit. With interest rates rising, we can expect the interest bill to grow to some immense amount. When the interest rate on borrowing averages 3.25%, they will owe a trillion dollars a year in interest alone. That’s enough to pay for the military and have $250 billion left over.

A trillion dollars a  year is $2.793 billion each day. In the United States, it is about $8.00 per day for every man, woman, and child. Did your family of four set aside $224 last week to pay your share? Do you think it is possible some people cannot pay their share, and the shortfall will fall to those who can?

Some questions

How many families in the United States could pay one day’s interest? According to the recent Forbes 400 list, there are 379. That’s the first year looked after. Then what? The rich cannot save us.

An important realization is the government cannot repay the debt because they have no real money. Only the people can repay it. How will the government decide to have that happen?

  1. Higher taxes. Politically unpalatable, and therefore unlikely.
  2. Reduced government spending. Also unpalatable.
  3. Inflation that makes $30 trillion a trivial sum. Inflation at 10% annually for 30 years would shrink it to less than $2 trillion of today’s spending power. At that rate, gold would be $35,000 an ounce and oil about $1,800 a barrel. There might be some economic dislocation!!
  4. Perhaps the end of the world will come.

Understand Herb Stein’s law.

“If a thing cannot continue forever, it will stop.”

The wise will think about when and how it will stop. There may be an opportunity there. One of the opportunities might be whether you should emigrate.

The Third Lord Moynahan provides insight. “Of the thirty-six ways of avoiding disaster, running away is the best.”

Pay attention to who is leaving. The rich will leave first.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate and effective ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

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