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Millions aren’t worth much


Government departments seem to spend billions quite casually, often forgetting it’s our money they’re splashing around, not theirs

File image: IOL

When I was growing up, the wealthiest people on Earth were known as millionaires.

The Rothschilds and Rockefellers were millionaires, and not many others.

Today millionaires are as common as cabbages. If you own a house in a modest suburb, you’re probably a millionaire. It’s hard to find a suburban house for less than a million rand.

My house has a municipal valuation well in excess of two million, so I suppose I’m technically a multimillionaire, although I certainly don’t feel millionaire-ish.

Apparently if you want to impress people these days, you have to be a billionaire.

Government departments seem to spend billions quite casually, often forgetting it’s our money they’re splashing around, not theirs.

I’ve written about billions before but still can’t imagine what a billion of anything would look like. I don’t think normal people actually have any idea what a billion is. Even the Americans and British disagree on the matter.

To help clear up the problem, Paul de Groot passed on some figures for my enlightenment. I think he found them in an American publication. He tells me if I were to stand on a street corner handing out dollar notes to everyone passing by, and gave away a dollar note every second, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take me 32 years before I got to the end of my billion dollars. (Actually, I’d still have spare change left at the end of the 32 years, but a very sore arm.)

Governments spend a billion between breakfast and tea time. A billion seconds ago it was 1957. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago our ancestors lived in caves and threw rocks at sabre-tooth tigers.

We need to bear this kind of number in mind when we read that our government has budgeted a billion for new curtains for Cabinet ministers’ houses, or whatever.

You spend a billion here and a billion there and it soon adds up to serious money.

Meanwhile, down here in the real world we phone our friends and tell them they’ve got a special offer on butter at our local supermarket for R39.99. We just have to work out whether it’s worthwhile spending the petrol to drive there, but if two of us share expenses and buy three packs of butter each, it may be worthwhile.

On the other hand, they say the price of petrol might drop next Wednesday, but will the butter still be on special offer after Wednesday?

We all have our problems. While governments worry about our billions, we agonise over our butter money.

Last Laugh

A passenger was feeling seasick during a cruise.

As he hung over the ship’s rail, his cheerful wife came bouncing up and said: “The lunch was delicious, dear. Would you like me to ask the steward to bring you a plate to have up here on deck?”

“No thanks,” he groaned, “but if you’d like to save a lot of bother, tell the steward he can bring my lunch here and just chuck it overboard to save me the trouble.”