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Trillion seems to be a scary number

Are you afraid of big numbers?

If you are, don’t read any further.

I was doing my usual scan through the usual websites and I found a story on CNBC.

The level of global debt has reached $233 trillion.

That makes the U.S. national debt of $20 trillion seem small, doesn’t it?

I expect many people will answer my question in the negative.


Trillion seems to be a scary number.

Perhaps it is the stories of inflation in Weimar Germany in the 1920s that have made that number particularly threatening or evil sounding.

It took over four trillion marks to buy a U.S. dollar near the end of 1923.

Trillion was clearly bad in that context.

But it pays to remember that Germany in 1923 had spent huge amounts of borrowed money to wage a world war 1914-1918, was defeated, lost millions of soldiers and lost territory as well.

It was in a terrible financial situation for reasons that make our 21st century problems look small.

But the evil impact of the number trillion was planted in the minds of coin collectors by this history decades ago and has remained there ever since.

I still get an occasional email or phone call asking about the exchange value of German bank notes from the great inflation.

Some of the people on the other end of the communication seem to think they have found an unknown holding like Bitcoin.

I guess a trillion of anything, even worthless marks, can seem like a lot.

So with my comments as a preamble, what do we make of $233 trillion of debt?

I am sure some gold writers will use this figure as another reason to recommend buying gold.

There is nothing wrong with owning gold as a hedge. I recommend it. Financial advisors say the quantity should be no more than 10 percent of your investible funds.

That is a good rule.

But the fear of trillions might make someone load up on more gold than is good for him or her.

Would it be better if that figure would be divided by 100 and expressed in 1913 gold U.S. dollars?

Then it would be $2.33 trillion worldwide debt.

I am using the well-known figure that the dollar has lost 98.4 percent of its value in terms of gold since 1913. I have rounded slightly for ease of figuring.

But even dividing by 100 cannot eliminate that sinister use of trillion.

But as they found out in 1929-1933, trying to repay loans in gold dollars bankrupted millions of people and traumatized my grandparents’ generation.

If my generation only has to face the trauma of using trillion in our financial accounts, I think we have gotten off lightly.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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