Goldfish Economics

How much is a trillion? This seems like a simple enough question, and most of us would answer with two words: “a lot.” But really, shouldn’t we have a more detailed reply—especially when the economic debt in the United States has now reached the astounding sixteen-plus trillion mark?

Perhaps one of the best explanations I’ve ever seen could be summed up as “Goldfish Economics.” Let’s explore by starting with a much smaller number—one million. If you were to try to house a million goldfish, you’d need a goldfish bowl large enough to hold a whale. That’s a pretty big bowl, right? How about a billion goldfish? Well, you’d have to fill up a football stadium with water to fit all of those creatures inside.

So what would it take to enclose one trillion goldfish? You would need a city harbor to hold all of those slippery little fish! Now, look again at these figures and envision dollar bills instead of goldfish. We are over sixteen filled-to-capacity harbors in debt—and growing! (By the way, we thank David M. Schwarz and his great children’s book How Much is a Million? for these startling statistics).

But this situation is far from child’s-play! In America, we’ve heard for over three decades that this multiplying debt would grow so exponentially large that we might not be able to contain it, and now 21st-century leaders in every profession are faced with the stark reality of limited resources compounded by lack-luster revenue and international debt-dealers.

What can those of us leading our homes, businesses, and communities do to make things better? First, we can’t keep letting the goldfish multiply! We must stop filling harbors if we want our lives—and our children’s lives—to start improving. Second, fiscal responsibility must become a battle cry from coast to coast, company to company, and family to family. Finally, those leaders who will help all of us in this process should be empowered. Those who want to continue to ignore the problem, or worse, keep this multiplication madness going—well, perhaps it’s time for them to be given “free agency” so they can get back into the fish bowl of life with the rest!