[FOUNTAIN]Trillion here, trillion there can do a lot

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[FOUNTAIN]Trillion here, trillion there can do a lot

How many zeros does one trillion have? Few people can come up with the answer, 12, immediately. In fact, a trillion is a number that is not commonly used in daily life. A lottery winner would receive only several billion won.
Because of the enormous size, it is hard for average citizens to know how much several trillion won is. Amid the East Asian financial crisis of 1997, Koreans became familiar with the unit when the government used public funds to help banks restructure and insolvent business giants settle debts. Without knowing the magnitude of the sum, several trillion won became a frequently referred to amount.
When Japanese companies began restructuring, the government had the experience of providing huge sums of public money to rescue private sector companies. Although the public bailout used taxpayers’ money, Japanese citizens did not know how large a trillion yen was. It was the writer, Ryu Murakami, who attempted to awaken this paralyzed sense of monetary scale.
In his book, “What Could We Have Done with the Money,” Mr. Murakami offers alternatives. By providing realistic examples of the costs of projects for world peace and the betterment of mankind, he made it easy for the readers to understand how large the trillions in public money were. For instance, he wrote that removing the 110 million land mines around the world would cost the equivalent of 40 trillion won. Providing elementary education for all children of developing countries might require 8.4 trillion won annually. Approximately 20 million won can save all impoverished children from losing their eyesight due to vitamin deficiency.
Giving vaccination shots to prevent polio and tuberculosis for children around the world would cost 300 million won, while a project providing a blanket for homeless children in developing countries would require 7.5 trillion won. Providing drinking water for the citizens of developing countries would cost 2.3 trillion won.
By juxtaposing the humanitarian examples and the extravagant public spending during the bubble economy era of Japan, Mr. Murakami made a poignant point. If we apply Mr. Murakami’s examples to the estimated 4.5 trillion won cost of the capital relocation plan, we may be able to recover the confused sense of financial scale and have a new insight.


by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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