Thursday, March 16, 2006

That's a Lot of Escarole

Over at Snarkmarket, they're talking about various ways you could peg consumption to the cost of oil. But this wire story I read today gave me another idea for a mind-boggling metric: the federal debt ceiling.

The U.S. Senate just voted to raise it to nearly $9 trillion. ($8,965,000,000,000 to be exact.) Richard Cowan, the author of the Reuters article, notes that even the senators themselves can't quite wrap their head around that many zeroes, let alone most citizens.

John Nolan, a mathematics professor at American University in Washington, said that a trillion is "not a big number at all" for some theoretical problems. "But in terms of practical numbers it's just overwhelming."

So he conjured up a spending spree, something Americans might be able to relate to. "If you spent a million dollars a day for a million days (2,739 years)," you'd hit $1 trillion, Nolan observed.

To spend $1 trillion in the average American life span of 77 years, you'd have to be on a lifetime spending spree of about $35,580,857 and change every day from birth.

So here's my idea: instead of indexing something relative to its cost of a barrel of oil (which is only going to go lower and probably become less meaningful as the price of oil goes up), let's take the cost of the item, multiply it by a million, and figure out how many years you'd have to buy a million of that item every day to reach the debt ceiling.

60 GB Video iPod ($399 + tax) @ one million iPods per day: 57.53 years
Leather Armchair ($2090 + tax) @ one million chairs per day: 10.98 years
Two Bedroom Condo in NYC (Upper West Side) ($1.2 million) @ one thousand units per day (let's not be greedy!) : 20.49 years
One year's graduate tuition at Princeton University ($32,450) @ one million students per year: 276.27 years
One million barrels of oil per day ($60.75/barrel): 404.30 years
Twenty million barrels of oil per day (about the rate of U.S. oil consumption): 20.22 years

This is where oil consumption/prices and the national debt show themselves to be mutually terrifying. The only consulation is that we will just might run out of money before we run out of oil. If we're lucky.

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