A Billion Here, a Billion There

If you're like me, you probably have four categories of money:

  1. the price of a beer,
  2. too much for a beer,
  3. rent, and
  4. far beyond my ability to comprehend.

I finally decided to sit down and try to comprehend that fourth category by lining up all the examples of high finance I could find. Some attempts to make a billion dollars comprehensible would go from the bottom up and explain how many of your everyday purchases you could get with a billion dollars (700,000 PCs or something). Instead, I'm going from the top down because, frankly, a billion dollars and you exist in entirely different universes. There is nothing in your life that compares to a billion dollars. Even if you're a millionaire, you'd have to live a thousand years to earn a billion. The only way to comprehend billions of dollars is in relation to other billions of dollars.

This is a pretty staightfoward list for reference purposes. I haven't gone out of my way to hunt down ironic, outrageous or humorous examples, but if you've been wondering how many Abrams battle tanks Will Ferrell could have bought last year, the answer is nine.

If you have a number, such as $14 billion, that you want to see in context, just scroll down, and you'll discover that it's about the same as the GDP of Papua New Guinea, the damage from Hurricane Hugo, and the revenue of the state government of Colorado.

If you look down around $90 million, you'll see that the biggest movie bomb in history is the equivalent of shovelling a year of Tiger Woods' earnings into a furnace. If you look around $40 billion, you'll see that the 9/11 attacks cost as much as shutting down Kuwait or Rhode Island for a year.

If you want to find the value of something specific, try [CTRL][F] and a simple keyword. Keep it simple. "Bill Gates" will find nothing, but "Gates" will find both "William Gates" and "Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation".

All these numbers are US dollars. Unless otherwise noted, none of these are adjusted for inflation. Also, I haven't gone out of my way to confirm the accuracy of these numbers; I'm just trusting that my sources are more or less sort of correct. And I haven't made any special effort to reconcile different numbers for similar categories; I'll leave it for you to figure out why some numbers that should be the same are actually different.

[I probably won't be updating this list, so if today is 2009, and you're wondering why all my numbers are from 2005, that's why. The only way to properly update a list like this would be to totally replace it, which, apparently, I haven't done, if you're reading this note in 2009.]

Here are a few links that jump to specific superlatives. Most of these are debatable. Or you can just use [CTRL][F]"guinness" to find those amounts that were consider noteworthy by Guinness's Book of World Records.


Tens of Trillions


Hundreds of Billions

Upper Hundreds of Billions

Mid Hundreds of Billions

Lower Hundreds of Billions

A Hundred-some Billion

Tens of Billions

Upper Tens of Billions

Fifty-some Billion

Forty-some Billion

Thirty-some Billion

Twenty-some Billion

Ten to Twenty Billion


A Few Billion


Upper Hundreds of Millions

Lower Hundreds of Millions

Tens of Millions


Hundreds of Thousands

Well, let's see if anyone actually looks at this page:

since 8 Oct. 2005

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Last updated October 2005

Copyright © 2005 Matthew White