What comes after a trillion

BY AARON LIM
Last updated 13:22 23/04/2009

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Welcome to the year of the zero - as in $1,000,000,000, 000. A year of unprecedented use of zeros in everything from budgets, to deficits and stimulus packages.

In the past people dreamt of winning $1 million, they were baffled by talk of $1 billion.

But now we're daily confronted by trillions - a figure with 12 zeros.

Here, in God-zone, Finance Minister Bill English says the country is staring down the barrel of a $50 billion recession.

Ah, we are but grasshoppers in the global game of zero zen.

President Barack Obama has forecast the biggest US deficit since World War II at NZ$3.15 trillion.

To fight the deficit we are told that we need economic stimulus. The recent G-20 summit of the world's richest countries pledged NZ$1.9 trillion to boost the international economy.

But that's peanuts compared to what President Obama plans to spend to prop up the ailing US economy alone - a NZ$6.38 trillion spending plan for the 2010 fiscal year that begins rolling out in October.

Still more is needed though. The International Monetary Fund says write-downs by banks and other financial institutions around the world caught out by the credit crunch, could reach NZ$7.3 trillion.

But the world economy still has an estimated eye-popping NZ$104 trillion of bad debt clogging up the global financial system.

Some perspective on a trillion:

*A trillion has 12 zeroes

*The entire US Federal budget of $6.38 trillion - if stacked end to end in dollar bills would circle the Earth more than 14 times.

*1 trillion seconds = 31,546 years.

*1 trillion dollar bills placed end to end would cover 96.9 million miles, far enough to reach the Sun.

But wait. There's a problem.

At this rate, the plethora of zeros will soon outpace the trillion dollar name. What happens when we go past 12 zeros?

Are we into uncharted territory? Will the world economy collapse under the weight of the impossibility to fit that many zeros into a calculator?

What comes after $1000 trillion? Common sense would dictate one thousand and one trillion. But common sense has been notably absent from the financial markets recently.

Fear not.

We unveil the Quadrillion. $1,000,000,000,000,000.

Count them - 15 zeros.

And mathematicians and linguists have mapped out our fiscal future no matter where dismal deficits may lead us.

Below is a list of what the scientific communities use for these staggering numbers:

*A trillion has 12 zeroes

*A quadrillion has 15 zeroes

*A quintillion has 18 zeroes

*A vigintillion has 63 zeroes

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And already in the triage of global meltdown, some of these numbers have been put to use. Look at Zimbabwe, where to buy a single US dollar you needed 12.6 trillion Zimbawe dollars. There inflation reached an estimated 89.7 sextillion percent.

Yes sextillion. $1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

That's 21 zeros.

Zimbabwe's central bank this year revalued and cut 12 zeroes off its currency in an effort to fix its currency and economic woes. 

Clearly it hasn't worked very well.

So we await the arrival of the Quadrillion. It can only be a matter of time.

Post your comment below. 

 

- BusinessDay

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