Thursday, January 6, 2011

How high is the debt ceiling?

In the past week many flocks of birds have been dropping dead out of the sky, fish have floated belly up on various rivers, and bumble bees are buzzing off to drop dead too. Some have been blaming Bush, others have been blaming invisible airplanes, anti-missile technology, UFOs, Obamacare, Global Warmening/Coolening, and Santa Claus's hypersonic sleigh. But the most amusing reason I've heard is that the birds have dropped dead after running into the debt ceiling.

I didn't know they could fly that high!

So I did a little calculation to see how high birds would have to fly to run into the debt ceiling. My presumption is that the debt ceiling needs to be tall enough to fit a stack of dollar bills under it. A dollar bill is .0043 inches thick when stacked, according to the US Treasury. Here is a table showing how high birds would have to fly to run into a debt ceiling defined thusly.

                      Dollars                          Feet                       Miles
1 Trillion1,000,000,000,000358,333,33367,866
2 Trillion2,000,000,000,000716,666,667135,732
3 Trillion3,000,000,000,0001,075,000,000203,598
4 Trillion4,000,000,000,0001,433,333,333271,465
5 Trillion5,000,000,000,0001,791,666,667339,331
6 Trillion6,000,000,000,0002,150,000,000407,197
7 Trillion7,000,000,000,0002,508,333,333475,063
8 Trillion8,000,000,000,0002,866,666,667542,929
9 Trillion9,000,000,000,0003,225,000,000610,795
10 Trillion10,000,000,000,0003,583,333,333678,662
11 Trillion11,000,000,000,0003,941,666,667746,528
12 Trillion12,000,000,000,0004,300,000,000814,394
13 Trillion13,000,000,000,0004,658,333,333882,260
14 Trillion14,000,000,000,0005,016,666,667950,126

Once the debt ceiling passed a billion it was 68 miles up, too high for birds to fly. This happened before the turn of the 20th century. The center of the moon is between 225,622 and 252,088 miles away from the center of the earth. So the debt ceiling passed the moon when the national debt got to 4 trillion. This happened some time in the 1990s, while Clinton was in office. Mars is 34 million miles from earth at its closest approach. This would require a debt ceiling at roughly $501 trillion. The US government will go bankrupt well before it approaches that level of debt, in fact it will require drastic and destructive measures if the debt approaches the $16T GDP any closer. So I wonder what the idiots in charge of federal spending are trying to reach. They can't reach Mars. So what are they trying to reach?

Maybe bankruptcy is the whole goal, after all.


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