consider this: If we stacked single dollar bills on top of one another, $2.6 trillion would reach more than 170,000 miles — nearly three-quarters of the way to the moon.Uh, right. In the first place, I can't remember the last time I saw even 10 one-dollar bills in the same place. I can't even picture a stack of a measly million dollars, let alone $2.6 trillion.
And then ... the moon? It's a long way off, sure, but the distance isn't easy to visualize without better clues than dollar bills. How about "x trips back and forth across the US," or "x times around the world"? Comparisons like this are supposed to give readers a familiar concept against which they can measure the less familiar one. Instead we have $2.6 trillion translated into two equally unhelpful images.
Even if the comparison worked, it's not clear what it's for. Surely the question is not "how much is $2.6 trillion" -- a tall tower of dollars, as much as the entire French economy, whatever -- but when such spending is "too much" for an economy of a given size, and what to do about it.
This is allegedly the first in a series on the topic, so I hope the editors will scrutinize future submissions a bit more carefully. All I learned here is that if I want to shinny up to the moon on a stack of dollar bills, I'll need more than 2.6 trillion of them.
*The link is to the online Opinionator version; nytimes.com didn't want to give me the address of the print version.