The Econ4u folks are dedicated to education Americans about all matters financial. To dramatize the importance of their mission, they put a poll into the field asking people how many millions are in a trillion. The results:
Q: How many times larger is a trillion than a million? Would you say…
One Thousand Times- 18%
Ten Thousand Times- 12%
One Hundred Thousand Times- 21%
One Million Times- 21%
Ten Million Times- 17%
Don’t Know- 12%
The correct answer is a million millions are in a trillion. But 79 percent of Americans got that wrong. And almost everyone got it wrong downward.
To be sure, I'm not sure that the meaning of this is precisely clear. The obvious implication is that Americans aren't able to accurately assess what their government is doing, but I'm not sure the sense that "the government is spending dump trucks of money" is actually different for people who think a trillion is 100,000 millions or 1,000,000 millions. And that's probably how most people understand what the government is doing. The more essential issue is that the government spends on a scale that individuals can't quite conceive. A trillion dollars isn't quite infinity-plus-one, but it's not far off. My sense is that there's basically a break point beyond which all numbers blur into "a lot of goddamn money.' A Senator disbelievingly saying that they're spending "$100 million" on health care for poor people probably isn't eliciting only 10 percent of the outrage he'd get for decrying "$1 billion" on health care for poor people.
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