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Real Money

10/15/08 7:55AM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison has been thinking about numbers that are so big - that most of us can't begin to comprehend how big they really are.

(ROBISON) A few years ago I was on an airplane going somewhere and having a conversation with the man seated next to me.  He turned out to be the Chief Investment Officer for a large corporation.  He told me that he had the authority to invest up to $20 million without higher approval in his organization.  I was genuinely impressed.

Today, with politicians, Wall Street types, and television personalities all throwing around numbers in the billions and even trillions, the $20 million seems almost inconsequential, even though it still seems like a lot to me.

I get the sense that we are, among other things, going through a massive numbing of all of us as to the meaning of big numbers.  Truth to tell, I have no idea how much money a billion dollars is - except to know that it is a lot.  I am not even able to conceptualize a trillion dollars.  All of us know by now about AIG, the insurance giant.  Remember: they received an $85 billion bailout and then a few days ago went back to the well for another $38.8 billion.  Are you aware that the difference between 38.8 and 38.7 is a cool $100 million?  Wow!  Point made.

These numbers are so large that most taxpayers (that would be you and me) simply cannot understand them.

Remember the statement usually attributed to the late Senator Everett Dirkson?  He reputedly said, " A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."  And indeed we are.

Now, dear friends, what bothers me most is the sense that there really isn't anyone who actually understands all of this.  It doesn't bother me all that much that I personally don't understand.  I don't  understand, for instance, what astronauts do - but that doesn't bother me at all.  But I do want to believe that someone somewhere does understand; and, right now at least, I don't really think that anyone really understands.  And that is scary.

When politicians tell me to be reassured I don't believe them.  Frankly, I don't think that they know any more than I do, and that isn't very much.

The other part of this which isn't very satisfying, of course, is the blame game.  Now, I gotta admit that I would be more than happy to blame someone if I only knew just whom to blame.  Alas, everyone is pointing at someone else.

I do realize that what I have said here is terribly personal - a public confessional of sorts.  Perhaps you do understand; perhaps these things don't bother you as they do me.  If so, you are one lucky person.  Consider yourself blessed.
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