Saturday, November 29, 2008
Gnome-o-gram: Tiling with Terabucks
Jonah Goldberg just published a column which begins with the sentence, “The costs of Washington's bailout fiesta are now so huge, you can see them from space.” Well, of course, I know Mr. Goldberg was being witty, but this is a literal-minded chronicle by a literal-minded chronicler, so let's work the numbers and see what a terabuck (T$, a trillion  U.S. dollars would look like from space). The exercise may provide some perspective on the sums bandied about as ultimately futile attempts are made to ward off the grand deleveraging crisis.
To be specific, let's calculate the area covered by a trillion United States one-dollar Federal Reserve Notes. Each note is 6.14 inches wide, 2.61 inches tall, 0.0043 inches thick, and weighs about one gram. The area of one dollar bill is thus 16.0254 square inches—call it 16 exactly. The area of a trillion such bills is just 1012 times this figure, 1.6×1013 in2, or about 3986 square miles: a little less than the combined area of the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island.
But the bailouts are a lot more than a terabuck, which seems more like the weekly tab as this thing snowballs. The current estimate for all of the bailouts, including the most recent of Citigroup. is 7.7 T$ (although, as Goldberg notes, some of this is in the form of loan guarantees and equity investments, which may ultimately be recovered [but if that were likely, why would private investors not put up the money?]). Let's assume here the taxpayer is, as they say in Texas hold 'em, “all in” and holding a losing hand, as is usually the case for taxpayers. Well, then we multiply the 3992 square miles per terabuck by 7.7, and get 30692 square miles of money, about the area of the state of South Carolina. If arranged in a square, it would be 175 miles on a side.
Posted at November 29, 2008 20:01