Powers of Ten (Part I)

Many years ago, I was greatly impressed by Morrisons’ book ‘Powers of Ten‘ (1994) which, very graphically, shows the enormous range of scale in our Universe. It starts with a 1 meter scale (of a couple at a picnic) and zooms out by each factor of ten, to the Earth, then the solar system, then the galaxy, and so on. In the other direction, it zooms in to smaller things – cells, DNA, atoms, …in factor of ten.  I didnt know it then but the 1977 movie, called Powers of Ten, by Charles and Ray Eames predates the book. This book really brings home an appreciation of how big – and small- things are compared to our everyday experience.
Now, I have a similar problem in comprehending the large sums tossed around in the Indian newspapers – especially scams running into thousands of Crores — just how many pizzas is that? So why not a Powers of Ten for Money? It turned out to be a non-trivial project, but here it is. We start from one Rupee and move up in steps of ten.
Disclaimer: these estimates are circa 2009 (important to call this out, in a land of 10 percent inflation); most items where values are known accurately do not fit to an exact power of 10, and in many cases it’s a ballpark (soccer field) estimate anyway.

Rupee 1 (10^0)

One minute local call. One local SMS. One Cadbury Chocolate Eclair. The last is particularly appropriate, since many shopkeepers and tollbooth operators give  back eclairs instead of change.

Rupees 10(10^1)

Half a loaf of bread (200 gm). About two cups of sugar. Two batata wadas, one Idli or half a dosa at the udupi. Half litre bottled water.

Rupees 100 (10^2)

One kilo of corn flakes. Three kilos of sugar. Two bottles of beer. One small pizza. Ten blank DVDs. A bathtubful of sand.

Rupees 1000 (10^3)

Two large pizzas plus 1 L bottle of cola. One UPS for a personal computer. Fortnight of local calls (one hour every day). Monthly charges paid to  house cleaning bai. Low-end wristwatch. One roomful of water shipped by tanker truck.

Rupees 10,000 (10^4)

One mid-range cellphone. One large LCD monitor. A plain gold ring. A month’s rent for a small apartment. Month’s earning by house cleaning bai (she works a dozen houses). One basic digital camera (Nikon S220). One bedroom half full of sand. Three bathtubs full of sugar.

Rupess 100,000 (10^5): Rs One Lakh

A 500 cc Bullet (motorcycle). Two 100 cc motorcycles. A Tata Nano (actually about half a Nano, on road). One set of gold jewelery (20 Tola) for a woman. One 100 oz (3 kg) silver bar.
silver bar 100 oz
Annual wages of two workers at minimum daily wage. Five years of Local calls (1 hr every day). One serious digital SLR camera (Nikon D300S). Half a coronary artery bypass.

Rupees 1 million (10^6): Rs Ten Lakh

One mid-range sedan (Optra, Verna, City, etc.).  One Rolex Professional Yachtmaster wristwatch. One bedroom filled with sugar (12x14x10 ft). The bribe to get admission to an ordinary engineering college. Four knee replacements.
rolex yacht master

Rupees 10 million (10^7): Rs One Crore

A carry-on suitcase full of silver (8″ x 14″ x 20″) – but don’t lift it – it will weigh about 380 kg!
One sports car (Porsche 911, BMW M5 or Audi R8). A small yacht. A tennis court piled with ordinary sugar . Lifetime earning of a schoolteacher (or two). The bribe to get admission to a high-end medical college (or two). One luxury bus (8 million). An apartment flat in an Indian metro.

volvo bus

Rupees 100 million (10^8) : Rs 10 Crore

Income tax paid by Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai in FY 2004-2005. Hrithik Roshan’s total earnings for the same year. Yearly income of a cardiac surgeon. Two US millionaires (5 crore each); Two and a half High Net Worth Individuals in India (4 crore each).

Rupees 1 billion (10^9) : Rs 100 Crore

Same small suitcase but now filled with gold instead of silver – 1.13 billion rupees- 708 kg. A sugar pile the size of a soccer field. Two personal jet planes (Learjet 60). Bofors scam (64 crore in 1987)

LearJet 60

Rupees 10 billion (10^10) : 1000 Crore

One tennis court piled with low-end cellphones (Nokia 1210).
One medium-size cargo carrier (“handymax”) shipload of sugar (35,000 tonnes).
One small bedroom packed full of silver bars.
Net assets of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) (9.6 billion)
One thali (lunch) for every person in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Two ultra large crude oil carriers (5 lakh ton deadweight, 400 m length)
Airbus passenger jet (Rs 15 Billion each) or two F35 jet fighter planes. Israel Aerospace Industries missile deal scam (600 crore). Bihar Fodder scam (950 crore)

F35 jet fighters

Rupees 100 billion (10^11): 10,000 Crore

Money required per day to elevate all Indians earning below 20 Rs per day to the minimum daily wage rate (150 Rs per day). Cost of one automobile manufacturing plant (Hyundai, Alabama, capacity 3 lakh cars per year, Rs 70 billion).

World’s largest ocean liner “Oasis of the Seas” (Rs 70 billion).
A US Billionaire (Rs 50 billion): Net worth of J K Rowling (50 billion), Richard Branson (Rs 125 billion).
Harshad Mehta scam (Rs 40 – 80 billion). Madhu Koda scam (40 billion). Satyam scam (80-140 billion)

Oasis of The Seas
To be continued …

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