The late Everett Dirksen, a long-serving Minority Leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, is famously quoted as saying a billion here, a billion there, and soon we’re talking real money. That was back in 1969. At the time, a billion dollars was about one-tenth of 1 percent of GDP.
What about today?
During 2020, the federal government provided a total of $3.2 trillion of Covid relief, starting with a mere $8.3 billion, then adding $104 billion, then adding $2.2 trillion, and finishing off the year with another $900 billion.
We’re now three months into 2021, and the federal government has provided yet another $1.9 trillion in Covid relief; and, the Biden administration has just asked for $2 trillion for infrastructure.
To put these amounts into perspective: A trillion dollars is today about 4 percent of GDP.
Back in 1969, Ol’ Everett was being funny when he referred to a billion dollars. Back then, a billion dollars was already real money. In 1969, the newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, cost $451 million, not even $1 billion. The cost of the Apollo 11 mission to put the first man on the moon wast $335 million, not even $1 billion. Only two companies made more than $1 billion in profits (General Motors $1.7 and Exxon Mobil $1.3). A billion dollars, representing one-tenth of 1 percent of GDP, was a fantastic amount of money. Ol’ Everett’s statement that a billion here and a billion there and soon we’re talking real money was a wild understatement.
And, now, we’ve gone from thinking of spending money at a clip of one-tenth of 1 percent of GDP to thinking of spending money at a clip of 4 percent of GDP, as though 4 percent of GDP isn’t already real money.
Back in 1969, the newest aircraft carrier cost about half of one of Dirksen’s billions. What about today? How does the cost of the newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, compare to a trillion dollars? The Gerald Ford cost $13 billion. That’s about a hundredth of a trillion dollars.
Back in 1969, the premier space mission of the year cost about a third of one of Dirksen’s billions. The cost of this year’s Mars mission,