FINANCIAL FOCUS: The case for the Googol Dollar Bill

Robert L. Nistendirk Jul. 16, 2009, 5:29am

Recently, the word "trillion" marked a new significance in the American economy.

In March, the Treasury Department reported that the national debt hit 11 trillion dollars for the first time ever. In June, the annual deficit for the Sept. 30, 2009, fiscal year passed the trillion dollar mark, again for the first time ever. The Obama administration projects trillion-dollar deficits for the next three years and, that by September 2012, the national debt will be $16.2 trillion.

The United States is running up so much debt, so quickly, that investors are worried. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo says his country has about one trillion dollars in U.S. Treasury notes, and he wants guarantees of repayment before investing further.

If the Chinese are not interested in Treasury notes, then perhaps the U.S. government should follow the Bank of Zimbabwe's lead and start issuing larger dollar bills. Zimbabwe faces the world's highest official inflation rate of an estimated 25,000 percent. Independent financial institutions say real inflation is closer to 150,000 percent. In order to continue to ensure that the public has access to their money from banks, the Bank of Zimbabwe recently introduced a one hundred trillion dollar note.

That's correct -- a 100 trillion dollar bill. I've been buying them left and right on eBay as novelty gifts for friends. At present they cost about a buck. But if you think about it, the concept of a 100 trillion dollar bill is brilliant. These things are selling faster than Zimbabwe can print them. People like me are pumping millions of dollars into the Zimbabwe economy.

So, maybe the United States should top that and issue the googol dollar bill.

Googol is the number 1x10100, that is, the digit 1 followed by 100 zeroes. The term was coined in 1938 by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner who popularized the concept in his book Mathematics and the Imagination (1940). Kasner created it to illustrate the difference between an unimaginably large number and infinity.

A googol has no particular significance in mathematics, but it is useful when comparing with other large quantities such as the number of subatomic particles in the visible universe or the number of possible chess games. In context, a googol is greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe, which has been variously estimated from 1079 up to 1081.

In popular culture, Googol was the answer to the million-pound (British currency) question: "A number one followed by 100 zeros is known by what name?" on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? when Major Charles Ingram attempted to defraud the quiz show in September 2001. In the January 1963 Peanuts comic strip, Lucy asks Schroeder what the chances are of them getting married, and Schroeder responds, "Oh I'd say about googol to one." The company name Google is a misspelling of the word "Googol" made by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as described in the book The Google Story by David Vise.

The sluggish American economy and the diminished Chinese appetite for United States debt make the case for the googol dollar bill a tempting one. At least the Chinese will buy those on eBay. Once the novelty wears off, perhaps we could go to the infinity dollar bill. Or perhaps we could just pay down the national debt. Wouldn't that be a novel idea.

Nistendirk is a partner at Woomer, Nistendirk & Associates PLLC, a CPA firm located in Charleston. Bob has extensive experience in tax accounting, strategic planning and financial/business consulting. He can be contacted at