See the Pyramids across the pile...
Hmm! Two things. Both from yesterday's papers one way or another.
First off the Confederation of British Industry (the CBI) put out a press release called Clearing The Pensions Fog. You can get a copy of that if you want by just clicking the link right there; it's all about the liabilities for the unfunded pensions liabilities in the public sector. The CBI reckon that the liabilities amount to much more than the £645 billion the Government claims. The CBI estimate is that the liability is more like £915 billion. That's close to one trillion pounds!
And that's the second thing: it's hard to understand exactly what a number that large is all about, but I read something interesting on that subject too, it came from somewhere in America, but I've translated it here for you.
It's this. Imagine you were lucky enough to be put in a massive vault somewhere in the bowels of the Royal Mint and that room was full of five pound notes (they're the little blue ones). And just say you were told that you would get to keep each and every note that you signed your name on; sort of some financial version of Supermarket Sweep or something. How long would it take you to get yourself a trillion pounds?
Well, say you could sign one fiver a second. That would mean that you'd gain yourself £300 every minute by signing 60 of them. After an hour you'd have a pile of £18,000 all signed up and if you could keep going at that rate for 24 hours without a break you'd amass a cool £432,000. Not a bad day's work. If you could keep up that punishing pace and go without sleep for a whole week you would be a millionaire with £3,024,000 in your pile of signed fivers. Keep that up for a whole year and you'd have over £157 million in your pile (my calculator hit the wall with that one, so it's all estimates from here on in - so no smart Alec e-mails please). To get a billion pounds (which is a thousand million pounds) I reckon would take you about six years. To get to a trillion pounds (which is a thousand billion pounds) would therefore take you something in the region of 6,000 years to accomplish.
I suppose, to put that another way, you'd have had to have started the process of signing fivers about 1,500 years before the Great Pyramid of Cheops was built to have any realistic chance of having signed a trillion pounds worth by now. That's a long time to stay alive let alone stay awake! Not only that, but signing one a second would have been pretty difficult with a dip quill and ink from 4000BC right up to 1938 when the biro was invented, so I'd imagine the whole process of putting a trillion pounds together by signing five pound notes would be quite a palaver all in all.
It's a big number a trillion. It'd be a big pile of fivers too. I guess that's what the CBI are getting at when they say it might be useful if an independent public sector pensions commission could be established to analyse the costs and set assumptions that could be used to help us all understand what we're in for from our future taxes to pay for all these pension promises.
16 December 2008
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