Fast Company

Visualization: What's a Billion, Here and There?

With all this talk of billion-dollar bailout programs, one information designer creates a chart that puts it all in context.

David McCandless, an information designer based in London, was flummoxed by all the talk being bandied about, over government programs running into the billions. So he created a chart of the entire mess. As he writes over at Information is Beautiful:

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.

Below is a resized version of the full-size chart, that you'll want to click on for legibility. It's an excellent visual supplement to the news we're swimming in everyday.

But there is one huge caveat that should be made about the data: The graph is dominated by $7.8 trillion supposedly spent by the U.S. government on bailouts in the present financial crisis. But that number isn't like the others--as The New York Times reports, that massive figure is actually a hypothetical estimate of what the government might be on the hook for if the financial system actually collapses. The actual budgeted cost of the bailout program is around $2 trillion--which is obviously enormous, but is actually a trillion less than we've spent on the Iraq war.

billion dollar chart