By Meteor Bladeson economic bailout
"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." Republican Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois apparently never said these words attributed to him about the same time as Lyndon Johnson put forth the first federal budget of $100 billion. Those were the days when people often said "billion with a b" because, when the number was attached to $$ signs, it was still capable of drawing a gasp. Days long gone.
Now we toss off "trillion" as if we comprehend it. Some are saying the upcoming
rip-offbailout will probably reach a trillion dollars. But what does that mean?
In February 1981, Ronald Reagan - the President who started us on the deregulatory path that has generated the greatest upward transfer of wealth since Congress deeded a tenth of U.S. land over to the railroad barons 140 years ago - had this to say about a trillion-dollar national debt:
I've been trying ... to think of a way to illustrate how big a trillion is. The best that I could come up with is that if you had a stack of $1000 bills in your hand only four inches high you would be a millionaire. A trillion dollars would be a stack of $1000-dollar bills 67 miles high.
Like much of what Reagan said, this wasn't true. If you could balance a trillion-dollar stack of $1000 bills, it would actually rise to just over 63 miles. But Reagan's speechwriter was bad at more than arithmetic. His image failed because few Americans had ever seen a $1000 bill. Calculating with the currency we are most familiar with - the $20 that ATMs spit out - the stack would have been 3150 miles high when Reagan delivered that speech. By the time he left office and was transformed into a Republican icon, the national debt had nearly tripled from the $993 billion owed when he arrived to $2.6 trillion. The twenties would have soared 8190 miles high.
Compared with the current White House occupant, however, Reagan was thrifty. Mister Bush has already added $4 trillion to the debt, 12,600 miles tacked onto the imaginary stack, putting it at 30,240 miles, with 119 days yet to go in his term. And that's before adding another trillion dollars for the bailout.
Now that you're properly numbed, what is a trillion dollars besides 10% of the national debt?
It's enough to give every woman, man and child in the United States $3278, which is $9 apiece more than what each Alaskan will get from state oil dividends this year.
It's twelve times what the federal government spends each year on transportation.
Ten times what it spends on education.
Six times what Senator Obama has vowed to spend over 10 years for energy independence.
It's 19% more than NASA's budget for the entire half century the space agency has been in existence.
It's 38% more than this year's bloated Pentagon budget.
It's 60% of what's needed to renew and repair America's entire infrastructure of bridges and roads.
It's 50% of what's needed to provide universal health coverage for all Americans.
But don't count on its being 100% of what reckless corporadoes, their lobbyists and puppets in Congress will be asking for in hand-outs by the time the current financial crisis is over.