A Milli, A Billi, A Trilli.


“A million here, a million there….”—Lil Wayne, “A Milli”

“Let’s make it a billion….”—Jay-Z, “A Billi,” feat. Lil’ Wayne

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”—attributed to late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL)

Obama BudgetFor the first time in U.S. history, it is not uncommon to hear politicians talk about trillions of dollars when discussing sums relevant to our national budget. For example, just yesterday, the Obama administration announced that, working with private institutions, the government would acquire over $1 trillion worth of toxic mortgage securities. The U.S. deficit is expected to hit $1.8 trillion this year. The price tag of the Iraq War has been estimated at $3 trillion. Over the next decade, President Obama’s deficits, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated, could total $9.3 trillion.

Most people have no idea whatsoever how much money these words represent, though. Some understand the basic math: A thousand dollars equals ten $100 bills, like the crisp note, above. A million bucks is a thousand bundles of a thousand dollars. (O.K., it’s starting to get fuzzy already….) A billion is a thousand millions. A trillion is a thousand billions.

But even these words do little to convey the size of the funds under consideration. I mean, even the best description I ever heard of how big a trillion dollars is—more than it’d cost to spend a million dollars every day since the birth of Christ—doesn’t really convey it. How long ago was Christ born? How big is a million? What does it feel like to live, let alone spend money, for centuries?

A picture, however, is still truly worth a thousand words, and the creator of the PageTutor article, “What does one TRILLION dollars look like?”, has literally performed a national service, answering that question in a way, I promise, you will never, ever forget.

He starts with a $100 bill, like the Benjamin, below.


Pretty much anyone who works can relate to this piece of currency. It neatly fits into our common spending and earning protocols. It is the largest U.S. bill being circulated.

Next, “A packet of one hundred $100 bills is less than 1/2″ thick and contains $10,000. Fits in your pocket easily and is more than enough for week or two of shamefully decadent fun.”


Next, here’s what a million dollars in those $100 bills looks like, next to a white guy for both scale and relevance:


Now, feast your eyes on $100 million, set square upon a pallet.


You’d need more than seven of these to pay for one day of U.S. operations in Iraq.

A billion dollars has effectively been the common unit of spending for government purposes at least since the 1960s. As noted, above, Senator Dirksen is famed to have said as much in his “A billion here…there” quip.

Here’s what a billion dollars looks like at this scale, on ten $100 million pallets.


And finally, a trillion dollars, the new unit of government spending, after the jump:


See our little friend in the red shirt, at the corner on the left?

Also, as the artist wisely points out, “Notice those pallets are double stacked….and remember those are $100 bills.”



#1 4C on 03.24.09 at 11:05 am

“scale and relevance”

#2 alegion on 03.24.09 at 7:31 pm

\next to a white guy for both scale and relevance\ lolz. I’m so glad I found the Media Assassin through Twitter. I had to unfollow you because of to many tweets but I am following you here. RESPECT!

#3 Craig Carpenter on 12.21.10 at 12:58 pm

This is a great illustration that puts dollar amounts into something of a tangible perspective. At your mention of the “white guy”, however, I was expecting some sort of joke illustration at the end, like a “rapper” standing next to the same trillion represented as stacks of rims, gold chains, Ciroc, Blackberrys and Jordans. That would have made me laugh (and cry).

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