Talking about Health Care (and Trillions)

Last night I did my first ever interview on local television, appearing on the Federal News Report on News Channel 8 in Virginia.

Going in, I had my usual talking points in mind on the various health bills pending in Congress, how much they cost, how they are paid for, whether the pay fors will actually work, etc.

But I wasn’t prepared for the best question Beverly Kirk asked me, even though I really should be. That question was very simple: How on earth do you make figures like a trillion dollars tangible to a normal human being? I didn’t have a particularly good answer and would welcome suggestions.

Last week, I was talking with a Senate candidate who asked a very similar question about the size of the deficit, which reached $1.4 trillion in 2009. I had a better answer for that one, noting that the imbalance between federal revenues and spending last year was equivalent to a family earning $40,000 per year but spending more than $65,000.

3 thoughts on “Talking about Health Care (and Trillions)”

  1. donald, nice video. two years ago the media ran many pieces like “what you could do with $1.2 trillion when estimates of the cost of the iraq war came out. (google what could you do with one trillion dollars). e.g. buy every kid in the world an ipod, pave US highways in gold, buy a buick for every senior citizen, etc. many of those examples still fit this year’s deficit numbers.

  2. Donald, I think the best way to help people conceive of these numbers is to use temporal parallels:

    A thousand seconds ago was almost 17 minutes ago.
    A million seconds ago was 11 1/2 days ago.
    A billion seconds ago (almost 32y) Jimmy Carter was President.

    And a trillion seconds ago?

    The earliest Egyptian pyramids were still over 25,000 years in the future.

    (For some reason, I think the human brain grasps units of time far more easily than other types of measure.)

    Hope this helps!


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