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July 20, 2009

Visualizing the cost of the government’s economic “rescue” plan

The inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) is preparing to submit a report to Congress tomorrow estimating the ultimate cost of all of the financial bailouts currently underway and in the works. Fox News reports IG Neil Barofsky’s stunning prediction in a July 20 article (emphasis added):
The total price tag for federal support stemming from the financial crisis could reach $23.7 trillion in the long run, the government's top bailout watchdog says in a new report to Congress.
Neil Barofsky, the inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, plans to deliver his report Tuesday to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The $23.7 trillion figure is admittedly a high-ball number and reflects the total potential gross exposure, but Barofsky in his prepared testimony notes that the TARP -- which started as a $700 billion bailout -- has expanded well beyond that.
[…] In supporting documentation obtained by FOXNews.com, the inspector general's office explains that the $23.7 trillion spans about 50 "initiatives or programs" created by federal agencies in the wake of the economic crisis.
The estimate covers commitments that could come from programs at the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies.
Almost 24 trillion dollars!
Chances are that few of us have had reason to try to get our minds around a number that big, so let’s go through a little visualization exercise.
A stack of 3000 newly-printed one-dollar bills stands about a foot tall*. To get the height of 23.7 trillion one-dollar bills, the math looks like this:
23,700,000,000,000 ÷ 3,000 = 7,900,000,000 feet
7.9 billion feet is about 1,496,212 miles. The moon is about 238,857 miles from earth; this stack of money is 6.26 times that distance.
Viewed another way, a dollar bill is about six inches long*. 23.7 trillion one-dollar bills laid end-to-end would stretch 11.85 trillion feet, or about 2.24 million miles, almost 9400 times the distance from the earth to the moon.
Where is this money coming from, folks? Of course, a lot of it will be created out of thin air, but the rest of it will be sucked out of the economy in the name of saving it.
* Dollar bill length and stack height estimates are from 87billion.com, a site established a few years ago to help us visualize the amount of money spent in the War on Terror. The site, however, is woefully inadequate for helping us visualize the cost of the bailout, since the money spent on the war to date is just under $900 billion, a number that used to be impressive.

UPDATE: Here's another visualization of what one trillion dollars looks like. Just multiply the final image by 23.7. (Thanks to jellybean for the link)

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