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Wednesday, October 8, 2014
“A Billion Here and A Billion There”
During the Watergate hearings in the mid 1970s, Senator Everett Dirksen, said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” 
 
His humor made headlines back then, but we seldom heard anyone talk about another aspect of his observation. That is, just how much money is a billion dollars?
 
Today, we hear the word constantly. Government budgets in the multi-billions are debated and approved all the time, and we seem to think nothing of it. Hardly a flicker from anyone.  
 
As a matter of fact, it’s more often the opposite. What we usually see is “pork” being piled onto appropriations bills as if the economy were a bottomless pit for our politicians, who ignore the public good for private benefit. California is a prime example of unrestrained political excess gone astray, to the point of bankruptcy. 
    
I can remember a time when the idea of a billion dollars was a source of wonder at the sheer scope of that amount of money. It no longer seems to elicit any response at all, except perhaps boredom. 
 
But, a billion dollars does add up to “real money,” especially when you look closely at what it can buy.
    
With that in mind, consider the following illustrations of just how much money a billion dollars really is:
 
The U.S. median (half above, half below) annual salary is $68,947 for men and $53,123 for women, it would support over 11,000 families for one year. Or, in the nation’s capital, it would pay the salaries of the entire Congress plus those of the complete Congressional staff and their combined office expense budgets for one year, with money left over. Which is the better buy?
 
In many third-world countries, where the average annual income is about $1,000, it would provide for a million families for one year.
 
At $8,400 per student, it would pay the costs of schooling for almost 119,000 children (K-12) for one year; or for the entire college education of over 9,300 students (at, say, $26,700 per year each). 
 
At a median salary, nationwide, of about $52,100 a year, it could pay for more than 19,000 secondary school teachers for one year.
 
Five million doctor visits at $200 per visit adds up to $1 billion. That’s a lot of patients. Or, at an average Rx expense of $200 a month, one billion dollars would pay the prescription costs for over 416,000 people for one year.
 
For apartment dwellers, at $2,000 a month rent, a billion dollars would provide shelter for over 41,000 families for one year.
 
For the investment minded, the earnings on one billion dollars, at 5% per annum, would be $50 million a year. Think you can retire on that? 
 
Looking at it from the viewpoint of seniors who receive Social Security, with the average retiree receiving about $1,230 a month, one billion dollars would provide annual retirement payments to about 67,700 people. If a one billion dollar endowment fund were invested at 5%, the $50 million investment income it would earn would help support almost 3,400 seniors with the equivalent of their Social Security payments, without dipping into the principal. 
 
Isn’t that how Social Security should work, instead of as some type of “Ponzi scheme,” which would be illegal if it were not the government doing it?
 
Are we getting our money’s worth from government? Or, is too much of it being wasted? 
 
Like the man said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”
 
© 2013-2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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