All that $$! What to do with it?

DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q.  Imagining the old expression "If I had all the money in the world, I would..." were taken literally, how much would you have? What might you buy? –D. Warbucks

A. First, you need to define what you mean by "money," says Fordham University economist Derrick Reagle. You might mean currency, or the kind of money you can put in a big pile and jump into.

Most products aren't bought with this kind of money, though. Checks, credit cards, and debit cards are fast outpacing the use of cash money. Add to this the multiplier effect whereby currency put in the bank can be reused by the bank making loans, and the amount of physical currency needed to sustain the economy dwindles.

In the U.S., cash money accounts for roughly $550 billion. Cash plus checking accounts (referred to as M1) equals about $1.5 trillion, and cash plus checking and savings (M2) is over $6 trillion. Total goods and services sold, however, are over $10 trillion.

"So maybe instead of asking for all the money in the world, you should ask for all the stuff, or to be king or emperor or something," Reagle says.

Now, to the world total: M1 here is roughly $6 trillion. The U.S. ratio between currency and M1 is about 1:3, smaller ratios for countries with less developed financial systems. Assuming a worldwide multiplier of 2, that's about $3 trillion worth of currency– or some 30 million S-class Mercedes, says Reagle.

Total goods and services is over $31 trillion worth. Therefore, you'd be able to buy only 1/10th worldwide production, "even less if you needed some money left over to buy a place in which to put it."

Q. If money is your motive, in which nation (currency) would you want to be a millionaire (1,000,000 or more)? ­U. Scrooge

A. Clearly something like the Japanese yen– one yen equals about $0.01 US– would be bad, says University of California-San Diego economist Richard Carson. A yen millionaire would have about $10,000 US, so forget buying that sporty new car.

The Turkish lira would be worse: one lira is about $0.0000007 US, so a million of these would be only $.70 US. Only a handful of currencies at the time of writing are worth more per unit than the US dollar: the Jordanian dinar at $1.41, the British pound at $1.67, and the Cyprus pound at $1.96.

"You would also rather be a millionaire in Euros, the new multi-nation European currency: One Euro = $1.15 US." For a universal currency converter, see www.xe.com.

Q. What is it about the frigid, barren Antarctic that has so many meteorites landing there? ­E. Shackleton

A. In fact, they fall about equally everywhere on Earth. It's just that the typical black-fusion meteorite crust stands out more against barren ice and snow, so tens of thousands of specimens have been found there, says the University of Pittsburgh's William Cassidy in Meteorites, Ice and Antarctica.

Also, without cars or people to disturb them, meteorites accumulate there in great numbers, often following ice "flows" into sample-rich areas. Antarctica is a meteorite hunter's heaven! But a second heaven is certain sandy desert regions, the Sahara and others, where for similar reasons more and more meteoritists have gone a-hunting in recent years.

In general, most meteorites are fragments of asteroids, "leftovers" of planet formation, so scientists can learn about the origin of the Earth, says University of Hawaii astronomer Joshua Barnes. A few are from the Moon or Mars, blasted into space by giant impacts on those worlds. Not just stony, a small fraction are iron with nickel mixed in. Rather rare are the carbonaceous meteorites, representing the oldest and best-preserved of the early Solar System.

BTW, what's a "meteoroid" in the high heavens becomes a fiery "meteor" ("shooting star" or "falling star") amid the frictions of Earth's atmosphere, and finally a "meteorite" at ground level if it gets this far.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.