Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Billion is the new Million

Those of us in our sixties like to tell ourselves that 60 is the new 50 (or 40 or 35).

Well, maybe, but today’s Oregonian reminded me of another “new.”

Consider three front-page stories:

Lorry I. Lokey, who made his fortune starting the PR-mongering Business Wire, gives $74 million to the University of Oregon, bringing his total gifts to the university to $132 million in the last four years.

Let’s write that in its full glory $132,000 times 1000.

Presumably Lokey has kept enough to pay for his room and board.

Moving right along, Danaher Corporation of Washington, D.C. pays $2.8 billion (that’s with a “B”) to buy Oregon technology icon Tektronix Inc.

Let’s write THAT out in full: $2.8 million times 1000.

Finally (and we still are on the front page of today’s paper) the estimated cost to build a new bridge (and improved approaches to it) over the Columbia River is $4 billion. That is 4,000 times $1 million. (Have you ever sat down to count to 4000? Try it. If you count by seconds, it will take you better than an hour. In other words, BOOOR-rinnnng.)

Is anyone blinking at these numbers? (Don't get me started on what each minute of America's Democracy-building presence in Iraq costs. It is shaping up to be a trillion-dollar war. $1,000,000,000,000. That's a million millions.)

I, for one, am having trouble wrapping my brain around bridges that cost $4,000,000,000 and people who can write checks for $132,000,000 to a university, as worthy as that may be.

Sixty may be the new 50 or 40, but I’m stuck in an era when a million bucks was a lot of money. Now it’s pocket change.

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