Monday, January 10, 2011

How deep are we in debt, really?

I had a crazy idea this morning. I wondered how deeply we'd be buried if the United States national debt was converted into one dollar bills and spread evenly across the entire area of the United States. I fully expected the answer would be that we would be several inches deep in dollar bills.

Boy, was I wrong.

To start with, the national debt as of this writing stands at $14,027,641,085,848.11. The area of a one dollar bill is 16.242187 square inches (measuring 6 3/16 inches wide and 2 5/8 inches high--I did get some slight variation on height, but 2 5/8 seemed to be the typical width of less worn bills). The area of the United States stands at 3,794,101 square miles. Note that there is some disagreement as to how exactly to determine "the area of the United States", so I just took the number listed on Wikipedia.

From there, it's just a matter of converting square inches into square miles and doing a little division. Nothing Excel can't handle.

The problem comes when one realizes there are actually over 4 billion square inches in one square mile. I found this so amazing that I double-checked my math, and I still have a hard time believing it. But, assuming that's right, that gives the total area of the US, in square inches, at 15.2 quadrillion, meaning it would take 937 trillion one dollar bills to completely paper over the entire United States. In other words, our entire current national debt would only fill about 1.5% of the land area of the United States.

How disappointing. ;)

Taking another tack, I decided to see what happened if I used an individual state. I started with Rhode Island, the smallest state, whose area is 1214 square miles. That comes to roughly 4.8 trillion square inches, meaning we could paper the state of Rhode Island with the national debt, in one dollar bills, and have enough for close to 2.9 layers.

I guess that just goes to show how big this country really is.

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