What could you buy for $700 billion?

How about a coffee a day for all Canadians . . . for 45 years

How much is US$700 billion? As we all know by now, it’s roughly the amount of money that U.S. government officials think is needed to rescue a ravaged economy from almost-certain collapse. We also know it’s a seven followed by 11 zeros. Even in those basic terms, it’s hard to wrap your mind around it. But there has been no shortage of attempts to put that mind-boggling number in terms normal folks can fathom.

Most often it’s expressed as $2,300 for every American person (and over $9,000 for a family of four). Last week, CNN informed viewers that it was enough to buy 2,000 McDonald’s apple pies for every American man, woman and child. That only raises another question—can a person even eat that much pie and live to tell about it?

Think of it this way: it’s 12 times Bill Gates’s fortune, explains Slate magazine, or the box office receipts of roughly 381 Titanic-sized blockbuster movies. How about the entire GDP of Florida? Yahoo News notes that it’s about $100 billion more than the amount spent on America’s social security system each year. Canadians might better wrap their minds around it this way: it’s the equivalent of 210 high-end hockey sticks for every person in the country. Or enough to buy every Canadian one medium Tim Hortons coffee every day for the next 45 years.

Some have sought to express it in terms of lost opportunities. Duncan Green, head of research for Oxfam International, notes on his blog that it would “clear the accumulated debt of the 49 poorest countries in the world twice over.” Oh, and it’s “enough to eradicate all world poverty for over two years.”

Then again, $700 billion looks relatively puny next to the overall U.S. national debt, which stands at more than US$10 trillion (for CNN viewers, that’s 29,000 apple pies for everyone). And it’s about the same amount of money that’s been spent on the Iraq war so far. In the end, it’s probably best to stick with a simple answer to the question. How much is $700 billion? It’s a lot.

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