Pension Risk Matters

Debt Clock Runs Out of Numbers

According to the Telegraph.co.uk website, the U.S. National Debt Clock has too few digits to measure the current state of affairs. The clock's owner, the Durst Organization, is expected to add a pair of additional placeholders next year, making "it capable of recording a quadrillion dollars of debt." (See "Financial crisis: US debt clock runs out of numbers," October 9, 2008.)

I had to look it up but it turns out that a quadrillion is a thousand trillion or a million million million million (with "quad" referring to four). To put things in context, consider the following statistics:

  • The world population is currently estimated at 6.729 billion individuals.
  • The U.S. population is roughly 305 million persons.
  • As of fall 2007, Apple had sold more than 150 million iPods in countries around the world.
  • The CIA Factbook approximates a Gross World Product as equal to $65.61 trillion (as of 2007).
  • Up to Q4-2007, the over-the-counter derivatives market, measured in notional principal terms and reported by the Bank for International Settlements, totaled nearly $600 trillion.
  • As of June 2008 and reported by the Bank for International Settlements, outstanding futures contracts, in notional principal terms, exceeded $28.6 trillion. The size of the listed options market toppled $55.6 trillion.
  • The largest corporate bankruptcy to date, as reported by InfoPlease.com, is Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. with a bankruptcy date of 9/15/08 and total assets, pre-bankruptcy, equal to $691.063 billion.

As U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen is credited as saying, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money." Imagine his posture today. (According to The Dirksen Center website, it is unclear as to whether the former lawmaker did in fact utter these exact words.)

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