How Much is $887 Billion, Really?

Several blogs (Such as this one, this one, and this one) have attempted recently to put the orgy of pork-barrel spending known as the stimulus package into perspective by explaining just how much $887,000,000,000 is in practical terms. The consensus winner seems to be that it’s about $3000 per American. That’s not bad as illustrations go, and does have some practical merit, as each American will owe that much more as their personal share of the national debt, but I think that as bloggers we need to do better.

How much is $887 Billion? It’s $12,770 per Obama voter. It’s every American’s mobile phone bill for the next five years. It’s 4.2 million new houses at last month’s average selling price. (That’s enough to give one to every family in Arizona, which, come to think of it, is awfully similar to how we got into this mess to begin with.) It’s more than the total value of all US currency in circulation.

Those things are all true, but they lack a certain visual element. Try this one. If it were printed in one dollar bills, $887 Billion would be enough to cover the total land area of Rhode Island, Delaware, and New York City combined. Or, if you prefer, it could cover New York in tens. Or Manhattan in hundreds.

Unfortunately, dollar bills don’t make a very practical floor/land covering, and at $9.60 a square foot for the ones, it’s kinda steep. Lowe’s has some decent looking vinyl tile at $1.08 each. It’s much more durable, and at that price for $887 Billion we can cover South Carolina.

If covering up states doesn’t help you feel how much money we are talking about, let me try and put it in terms of something you might buy. 8GB iPod Nanos go for $134 at Amazon. So the stimulus package is equivalent to ordering 6,619,402,985 of them. (Don’t forget to click on free super-saver shipping.) At a shipping weight of 1 lb. each, and assuming an average weight of 177 lbs per person, that’s more than enough to give every resident of California their weight in iPods.

Of course, iPods are relatively durable items. What about in terms of something that gets consumed by you, the average American? My local on-line grocery delivery service will sell me a 24 oz. jar of Chi-Chi’s Fiesta Salsa Thick and Chunky Medium for $4.19. So the stimulus package is equivalent to 39.7 billion gallons of the stuff. And what could we do with it? Well, this is only a suggestion, but to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico, we could dig a trench 4 meters deep and 10 meters wide along the entire 1,969 mile US-Mexico border and fill it with salsa. Because there is nothing that would repel an actual Mexican more than Chi-Chi’s Fiesta Thick and Chunky Medium salsa.

But maybe this is all too impractical for you. How about something useful? For example, a 2009 Mercedes SLK55 AMG convertible? It’s got a 355hp V-8 that will take it 0-60 in 4.9 seconds. We could buy one for every one of the 14.3 million college and grad students in the US. Or all the men divorced in the last ten years.

So now you know.

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