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Awaiting the Crash

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As we prepare for Farmageddon (Financial Armageddon), Peter Sherwood translates trivial trillions

In Philipp Dettmer’s book Immune, this jumped off the page: “There are about 10 million viruses in a single drop of seawater… for every grain of sand on Earth there are trillions of viruses.” Then there’s money. Not long ago a million dollars was a lot. Soon the world’s financial system went into billions, and before I could get my feeble mind around it, along came trillions, an incomprehensible number unless you’re talking Trump lies.

Over the past 15 years, government printing presses have churned out trillions, cheered on by a generation for whom a serious downturn is Man U losing at home. According to Howard Marks, head of Oaktree Capital (US$158 billion under management), one trillion dollars is US$10 per second for… 3,000 years. Read that again. And Apple is worth three trillion dollars.

Those who have tried to rationalise multi trillions have had their frontal lobes, cerebellum and basal ganglia burst into flames. We try to process these numbing figures with detachment, unable and unwilling to envision a vast doom machine built of laughable valuations. The property company China Evergrande has debts of US$300 billion. So what? say the financial markets, it’s only a third of a trillion (whatever that is). If masochism is your thing, then contemplate the world
debt: US$250…trillion. The online debt clocks by country are racing around in a blur. Our logical next step is to sell everything and move to a well-stocked bunker to await the crash – and fend off starving Wall Street managers trying to sell their children. Compared to what’s going on in the world, China Evergrande is the place to stick your pension fund.

As we prepare for Farmageddon (Financial Armageddon), I have this for the ‘not many people know this’ crowd: One trillion in US pennies would weigh 3,125,000 tons. Vast debt doesn’t mean much until it’s your own. It seems, for example, that Americans sleep soundly in their beds knowing they are US$36 trillion in the hole. I’m betting they don’t know what a trillion is. And
if they had that amount to spend at the rate of US$40 per second, it would take 792.5 years before they went broke.

While I’m on to crazy comparisons, did you know that dollar notes end to end would reach the moon and back 3.76 times. Piled up you’re looking at 10,921 kilometres skyward. Billions or trillions, does it make much difference? Yes. A billion seconds is 32 years. A trillion seconds is 32,000 years. A trillion is an idiotic sum. In 2000, the word ‘trillion’ appeared in the New York Times 856 times. In the first three months of 2021, it had already appeared 723 times. And in terms of insane national debt, we still don’t know what it means. But I can rent you a room in my bunker.

Note: The odds of you being born are close to impossible, although some scientists put it at 700 trillion to one. Buddhists think it’s like throwing a lifebuoy into the ocean at random and a turtle sticking its head through it – first try.

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20+ years. The former head of an international public relations firm, he is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.


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