We encounter that word frequently these days, especially as the presidential election heats up. But how often do we really use it?
Almost never. Except for those who use scientific notation on a professional basis, few people use 13-digit numbers regularly.
The number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy? Some 200-400 billion, according to estimates. Not even half way to a trillion.
How about the temperature of the sun? Sorry, that's measured in millions of degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. However, the highest man-made temperature ever recorded was 7.2 trillion degrees last June using a giant atom smasher at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.
This is just a way to lend some perspective to another unfathomable number, again created by human beings. Sometime soon - perhaps by the time you read this - our national debt is expected to exceed $16 trillion.
Yet the reason for this editorial is the ongoing argument over extending the income tax rates enacted under President George W. Bush and the changes sought by President Barack Obama. The president wants to see the top two brackets - now 33 percent and 36 percent - become 35 percent and 39.6 percent.
Obama also wants to change the tax rate on investment income, which now is at 15 percent. He favors a 20-percent tax on capital gains while having dividends taxed at the same rate as income for higher earners.
This argument distracts from the true problem: the annual budget deficits and the growing national debt. This is where the rarely used big numbers come into use.
According to Forbes magazine, there were 425 billionaires in the United States this year with an aggregate net worth of about $1.5 trillion. If they were taxed at a 100-percent rate on everything they own, it would roughly cover 40 percent of the current budget.
According to IRS data for 2009, a 100-percent tax rate on the 236,000 Americans who earned $1 million or more would have yielded $610 billion. Still not enough to cover the current, continuing federal budget.
What if we just confiscated all the wealth held by everyone worth more than $1 million? According to the annual World Wealth Report, that would have netted $11.6 trillion in 2010.
That would leave the rest of us 99 percenters to pay the rest of the tab, plus foot the entire federal budget.
We're arguing over the wrong side of the budget issue. The problem is the amount being spent.