The Billion Dollar Gram

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Billions spent on this. Billions spent on that. What does it all look like? Hopefully The Billion Dollar Gram will help.

This image arose out of a frustration with the reporting of billion dollar amounts in the media. That is, they’re reported as self-evident facts, when, in fact, they’re mind-boggling and near incomprehensible without context. But they can start to be understood visually and relatively, IMHO.

(This is one of the first images I created for my book. So a lot of the figures are from 2006/07. I’ve also visually cheated slightly here and there to make everything fit)

I hoping this will be a “living image” that I’ll keep updating all the time. So if you find any interesting, juicy or eye-popping billions, please comment below (with a source). Let’s see how high we can make this image!

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Show Comments ( )

  • Alan Miller

    I wouldn’t call it rubbish depending on the exact changes. Because of the grid format, there are going to be situations where adding that extra 7 pixels to get the size exactly right means that you have to leave a 50 pixel white line because you started with a 57×57 pixel square – now a 58×57 with 50 blank on one row.

    The purpose of a graphic like this is not to be able to count the pixels in each region to get precise numbers, the purpose is to give a sense of the relative sizes of widely-used numbers.

  • The Crucible

    These visuals are awesome. A great way to show how f-ed up our priorities are as a society. Keep up the good work on all of the visuals.

  • swen

    would be interesting to add:
    $$ spent on international aid by US
    % of that aid spent purely on Israel
    its actually quite a heartbreaking comparison

  • Andrew

    Completely useless if you don’t lock image real estate to dollar amount, which you didn’t. What gives?

  • Fritz Glunk

    We, the German political magazine DIE GAZETTE, took the liberty to translate the texts in your highky impressive into German.
    We are at present asked by the biggest south German daily, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, to lat them reprint the picture with our translation.
    Credits (InformationIsBeautiful) will of course be given.
    We sincerely hope you agree with this procedure.
    Respectfully yours,

  • Atner

    Nice diagram to show the budget. I will use it to show the budget of regions.
    Maybe anybody know some software to produce such nice pictures?

  • Saul Davidman

    This is a great way to visualize our priorities.

  • marco

    i’d add some indices of the expenditure on huge scientific experiments (such as the Large Hadron Collider) !

  • Peter Mount

    Excellent book, but on p.26 of Information is Beautiful your diagram shows a mobile charger generates 0.26 tons of CO2 a year and a medium car 2.6tons. Surely a mobile charger is less than a tenth of a car? Decimal point inaccuracy? Thing is that people think turning their charger off will help save the world – this error supports that. The fact is it won’t – makes you feel good but has no noticeable effect on CO2 production. Not driving the car does!

  • Robin

    I think the total debt African HAS to pay to the Western world should be green (spending) not orange (the color of giving).

  • Christoph
  • Falstaff

    No block for 911 economic costs? As much $2 trillion reported by some estimates:

    Sept 11 is probably better described as a human tragedy, but then that is probably true for many of the blocks on the Billion Dollar Gram as is.

  • Colm Brophy

    This is on a similar theme a list of 100 ways the €25b which was used to save a failing Irish bank could have been spent. Puts the number into perspective….

    93 Asphalt every trunk and regional road (110,000km) of substandard countries in sub-Saharan Africa
    89 Construct six large hadron colliders, one for each Green Party TD
    75 Fly the adult population of Ireland to Las Vegas, and give everyone €10,000 to gamble with
    69 Buy a pint of Guinness for everyone in the world to celebrate Arthur’s Day (and it would count as exports)
    64 Host two Olympics Games, based on the London 2012 cost of €11.2 billion
    51 Buy Steve Jobs (€25 billion is the actuarial value on his life) and get him to work for Ireland Inc
    28 Supply the water needs of Galway city, for a year . . . with Perrier water
    8 Reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools to 1:10 for the next 20 years

  • claro mensajes

    I think the total debt African HAS to pay to the Western world should be green (spending) not orange (the color of giving) i said it.

  • Lyon Travis

    This is a very interesting diagram and very shocking too. Can’t believe how much money has been wasted for insignificant things. I can see there are more important matters that are being neglected. I hope the government will use the money they’re collecting from tax wisely, so that we can really see that our money is being put to good use and so that we can feel the progress. Well, I guess what I’m wishing for is not that simple. This is a great diagram by the way. Very creative and it’s very easy to understand. You did a great job with it. Keep it up!

  • Ken Kephart

    Are these inflation adjusted dollars? If not, it would be interesting to see how the New Deal stacks up in today’s dollars vs. the “stimulus” to date.


  • halaman bermasalah

    nice info ..
    thanks for share ..

  • Noam Josephy

    This is a wonderful presentation of relative sizes. I was also very impressed by the talk on TED!
    Is there an easy tool (wither online or software) where this can be used with raw data?

    Thank you!

  • Jp Adams

    This is great. Is there an updated version available?

  • Jibben Hillen

    This is amazing! You should do an updated version

  • Jemz

    Are there any plans of a European “bail-out-O-gram” in the pipeline?

  • Jemz

    I’d really like to have a personal accounting system that did this.
    So I can see where all my money is going during the month!

  • Celeste Rose

    “Among The Costs Of War: Billions A Year In A.C.?” Article date: 25-June-2011

    “The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion, according to a former Pentagon official.”

  • Sue

    Hi! I frequent your site a LOT!

    I have used this particular graphic on and off over the last several semesters for the first class of statistics to get students excited about stats – that there is always a story to be told in numbers and data (thank you!). Many of them come here independently afterwards and look at your amazing work – and follow through and look at the raw data (good on them!).

    I noticed you mentioned you were thinking about updating this one when you had time (hah!) occasionally. Given the state of the United States debt now, and the Iraq war is STILL going not to mention heap of other things in the interim eg GFC, failing economies in Europe etc, are you by any chance workign on an update of this? If so, do you have an estimated time frame for the update? I am utterly fascinated and equally appalled by this, of all the infographics on your marvellous site and am looking forward to an update!


  • http://pid=1068831&profile_id=6551480&profile_name=rogeralvarez717&user_id=6551480&username=rogeralvarez717 Shelby Mcelmeel

    Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really helpful & it helped me out a lot. I am hoping to present one thing again and help others such as you helped me.

  • salud

    Are these inflation adjusted dollars? If not, it would be interesting to see how the New Deal stacks up in today’s dollars vs. the “stimulus” to date.