Million vs. billion

FWIW, since huge numbers come up in discussions of food-related matters…
I listened to an interviewee on the radio, who was vexed by political candidates who lump millionaires and billionaires together. He pointed out that most people have no point of reference when it comes to these amounts, and presented a useful way of understanding the magnitude of difference. (I rechecked the math, and he is right.) He said that a million seconds is roughly 11½ days, but a billion seconds is about 32 years,


Great point.

In a food context, parts per million and billion sound very similar. Parts per trillion is a nearly incomprehensible concept unless you work with numbers every day. For example, the human sense perception threshold for 2,4,6TCA (a chemical in wine wine causing cork taint) can be as low as ONE ppt. That’s only 0.000001 part per million!

Here’s another good one: A stack of $1 million in $100 bills stands 43 inches high. A stack of $1 billion in Franklins would stand over 8 MILES high.

A conservative estimate of what the US has spent–so far–on its ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $4 trillion; that’s a stack 2,714 miles high–roughly the distance between Seattle and Miami. Laid end to end and 16 wide, the C-notes would reach the Moon!

I use this calculation a lot to illustrate just how much bigger a billion is than a million. I use it terms of cash, though, so if you put a dollar bill down every second, it will take 11 .5 days, to get a billion $ it’s about 32 years.

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A billion is a thousand million; a trillion is a thousand billion, or a million million.

I agree. I suppose all they want to say “very rich people”. The thing is that a millionaire used to represent someone who is very wealthy. Now, due to inflation, a millionaire is not what it was. Dr. Evil from Austin Power demonstrated this very well. He came back from the past and wanted to hold the world ransom for 1 million dollars. Of course, 1 million dollar is not a lot for a global ransom.

The concept of millions and billions can be difficult to grasp, but they are different by a thousand fold.


And the punchline is that a trillion will take 32,000 years, which is common sense but surprising to many people.

I know I started getting nervous a few years ago when trillion replaced billion in economic news.

In my field a billion is simply referred to as a “yard.” So if someone is dealing in 2 billion of something, I would say I’ve got 2 yards to go. I wonder where that came from.

Another bit of trivia. I understand that $1 million in $100 bills weighs 22 pounds. All those movies where you see someone pick up a case with $10 million and stroll off with it seem ridiculous when you think that case would weigh more than 200 pounds.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold