Professor George Spagna
R-MC Physics Department
Randolph-Macon College physicists, Professor George Spagna and William Franz, have
released the highly anticipated annual R-MC Budget Cruncher list, “It’s Not
Astronomical, It’s Governmental!”
The FY2014 budget numbers are so large that it takes a physics professor to explain
it. Part of understanding physics is being able to visualize the unfamiliar and
new in terms of the familiar and common. Randolph-Macon College’s physics professors
Dr. George Spagna and Dr. William Franz have been doing this since 2004.
The following is a compilation of their humorous and creative examples to help the
general public put the size of the proposed federal budget into perspective:
“This year’s proposed budget is $3.77 trillion, which means spending almost
$120,000 every second for 365 days, since 2014 is not a leap year.
Looked at another way, it would take:
• 120,000 years to spend that at $1 per second.
• The current US population is about 316 million, which makes the proposed budget
equal to $11,944 for every man, woman and child in the country.
• The world is spread a little thinner, with each of 7.08 billion inhabitants of
the Planet Earth getting a mere $533.
• If turned into dollar bills and laid end to end, the budgeted outlay would stretch
3.9 times the distance to the Sun – you could get there and back almost twice. (Travel
at night so you don’t burn up the money!)
• If you prefer to stack the dollars instead, the 377,000 km pile would reach almost
(98% of the way) to the Moon.
• A stack of dimes would only reach a third of the way to the Sun, and would have
a mass of 111 billion kilograms – that’s 111 million metric tons. Since 92% of a
dime is copper, it would take almost six years of the world’s 16.1 million metric
ton annual production of copper to make those dimes.
On a lighter note, we saw that a 30 second ad during this year’s Super Bowl was
sold this year at $4 million dollars. Since some people actually watch for the ads
rather than the game, they could be provided with:
• 943 thousand continuously running commercials lasting for 327 days! (Some of the
ads may have felt like they were running this long!)
• At this rate, the now-infamous 34 minute blackout during the second half could
have been filled with commercials for only $272 million.
Or you could have paid for almost 14,000 blackouts with the federal budget.
• Interestingly, the premier of Mad Men on AMC sold commercial time for a record
(at the time) rate of $178,840 for a 30 second ad. The budget proposed would buy
just over 20 years of continuous commercials!
Some of the past year’s popular electronic devices include the iPad ($499), the
iPad Mini ($329), and the iPhone5 ($199), all according to apple.com. You could
buy for everyone in the United States:
• Either 24 iPads, 36 iPad Minis, or 60 iPhones. (If you want to be generous to
the whole world, those numbers are closer to 1 iPad, 2 iPad Minis, or 3 iPhones
for everyone on the planet.)
• If you wanted to give everyone all three, that would be 12 of each in the US.
The rest of the world would have to share, since there’s only enough for one set
for every two people.
For a more newsworthy approach, we note that this has been the season of the so-called
“fiscal cliff,” and last year was an election year.
• The Presidential election in 2012 was the most expensive on record, with about
2 billion dollars being spent. The budget is equal to 1885 elections.
• The most expensive congressional election in history was last year’s race in Massachusetts
between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. At a measly $85.43 million, it would take
44,000 elections to match the federal budget.
Making sense of the fiscal cliff also seems to require more understanding of American
Government, so how about 377 billion copies of Cliff’s Notes on American Government
at $9.99 from cliffnotes.com?
In the second season of the popular television series Cheers, there was an episode
called “Cliff’s Notes: the Wisdom of Cliff Clavin.” You can get the whole second
season on amazon.com for $16.99, or 222 billion copies for this year’s budget.
(If you’re more into children’s stories, a boxed set of Clifford the Big Red Dog
can be found at Walmart for only $20 – that’s 189 billion copies, and probably a
lot more fun.)
Of course, nobody wants to go over the cliff, but a popular scene of just that happening
is at the end of the movie Thelma and Louise, which has grossed $45,360,000 world-wide.
The budget totals over 83,000 runs off the cliff.
If your movie tastes lead more to cliff-hangers than actual cliffs, you might consider
several of this year’s suspenseful Oscar winning films. For example:
• Best Picture Argo was produced for $44.5 million – you could make this film 84,700
• Les Miserables was a bit more pricey at $61 million, perhaps to pay for all the
voice coaches, so you only get to remake this one 61,800 times.
• Incidentally, Lincoln has grossed about $182 million so far, this is almost 21,000
times the federal budget.
Some people do go up cliffs, however! If you’re into rock climbing, one of the most
famous cliffs to climb on is El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. It rises 3000
feet above the floor of the valley – that’s more than $1.26 billion per foot. A
70 meter length of Mammut Tusk Super Dry climbing rope is found at REI.com for $239.95.
You could buy 1.1 trillion meters of rope, and stretch it well past the summit of
El Capitan … like 7332 times the distance to the Sun! Perhaps best not to go over
Spagna is a professor of physics at Randolph-Macon College and
the director of the college’s Keeble Observatory. Spagna earned his B.S., M.S. and
Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Franz is a professor of physics and serves as the provost of Randolph-Macon
College. He earned his B.S. at Muhlenberg College and his M.S. and Ph.D. at the
University of Delaware.
For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Anne
Marie Lauranzon at (804) 752-7317, firstname.lastname@example.org.