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What’s A Billion, Anyway?

Written by Wellness Club on February 24, 2009 – 10:22 pm -

Opinion and Commentary by Nurse Mark

This little email piece makes it’s way around the internet from time to time. It landed in my inbox the other day and the numbers caught my eye – could they really be true, I wondered? I did a little research and found that the numbers are a actually little off  in the popular email that is forwarded willy-nilly by well-meaning friends – so I have corrected them and presented this updated version:

How many zeros in a billion?

Common American usage of the term is a one, followed by nine zeros: 1,000,000,000 or one thousand million.

The next time you hear a politician using the word "billion" in a casual manner, think about how you want the politicians spending YOUR tax money.

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency recently did a good job of  putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.

A billion seconds is about 31.7 years – so a billion seconds ago it was 1976.

A billion minutes is about 1901 years so a billion minutes ago Jesus had only recently walked in the Holy Lands.

A billion hours, or about 114,000 years ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

A billion days, or 2.74 million years ago no-one walked on the earth – at least not fully erect on two feet.

A billion dollars ago was only 4 hours and 10 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it. (Given that recent budgets have been around $2 trillion per year)

The second part to this email attempts to "make hay" politically with the "billions" figures – and again, as is usual for these sorts of emails, it is not exactly accurate. Still, some eye-opening points are made, so here is a somewhat corrected version:

While this thought is still fresh in our minds let’s consider Louisiana Senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) who in 2005 asked Congress for 250 billion dollars ($250,000,000,000) to be used for the post-hurricane Katrina rebuilding of New Orleans. It is important to note that this bill did not propose to pay money directly to residents or homeowners – but it is fun nevertheless to do the math is if it had…

An interesting number, $250,000,000,000 – what does it mean? Again, the math in the original email is a little off according to so here is a version corrected to Snopes’ figures:

Well… if you were one of the 484,674 residents of  New Orleans – every man, woman, and child – you receive $515,810.

Or… if you have one of the 188,251 homes in New Orleans, your home gets $1,328014.

Or… if you are a family of four, your family collectively receives $2,063,240.

The third part to this email attempts to remind us of the myriad of taxes that now burden most Americans – many of these taxes were unknown a century or so ago in America, and others are taxes that caused our earlier American ancestors to rebel against British rule.

These are not presented with any commentary as to their worthiness or need, not with any claim as to the correctness or completeness of this list – it is simply repeated as it is received in the email – but this does answer that age-old question "Where do they think the money comes from?"

  • Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Building Permit Tax
  • Capital Gains Tax
  • CDL License Tax
  • Cigarette Tax
  • Corporate Income Tax
  • Dog License Tax
  • Estate Tax
  • Excise Tax
  • Federal Income Tax (Fed)
  • Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
  • Fishing License Tax
  • Food License Tax
  • Fuel Permit Tax
  • Gasoline Tax
  • Generation Skipping Tax
  • Gift Tax
  • Hunting License Tax
  • Inheritance Tax
  • Inventory Tax
  • IRS Interest Charges (arguably a tax on top of tax)
  • IRS Penalties (arguably a tax on top of tax)
  • Liquor Tax
  • Luxury Tax
  • Marriage License Tax
  • Medicare Tax
  • Property Tax
  • Real Estate Tax
  • Service charge taxes
  • Social Security Tax
  • Road Usage Tax (Truckers)
  • Sales Taxes
  • Recreational Vehicle Tax
  • School Tax
  • State Income Tax
  • State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
  • Tariffs
  • Telephone Federal Excise Tax
  • Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
  • Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Tax
  • Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
  • Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax
  • Telephone State and Local Tax
  • Telephone Usage Charge Tax
  • Utility Tax
  • Vehicle License Registration Tax
  • Vehicle Sales Tax
  • Watercraft Registration Tax
  • Well Permit Tax
  • Workers Compensation Tax
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