What’s a Trillion Dollars

One significant impediment to political understanding is that people don’t have a great deal of intuitive ability to process very large magnitudes. But this right here is a very effective demonstration of what one trillion dollars means relative to other magnitudes.

I found that via the Graphic Sociology where Flaneuse explains:

I have heard on NPR that it’s hard for people to make decisions about monetary volumes once the order of magnitude goes above 7 or 8, that humans unconsciously shift to logarithmic scale thinking which leaves 100 million dollars being only slightly less than 1 billion dollars. That’s like thinking that 100 dollars is only slightly less than 1000 dollars.

Of course in some contexts logarithmic scales are appropriate. But we shouldn’t let our choice of scale be determined merely by the size of the quantity we’re thinking about. Oftentimes when talking about budgetary matters in the United States, I think it would be helpful to come up with something other than raw dollar totals to discuss. Talking about a given initiative costing $X per person or per household, or being such-and-such a percent of total economic output, might give people a better understanding of the relative costs of different things.