Thursday, August 30, 2007

Big Numbers

So, apparently Bush is planning on asking for an additional $50 billion from Congress as a supplemental to the previous supplemental.

Let's leave aside for a moment the issue of whether the Democrats will finally find the balls to stand up to Bush. Instead, lets talk about numbers.

I think it is a basic principal that the human brain just doesn't deal very well with numbers. Numbers are an artificial construct created by humans over the last several thousand years in order to impose a standard for measuring quantities. If it weren't necessary to the functioning of markets and trade, numbers probably wouldn't be all that important. Indeed, beyond the counts we might necessarily need to worry about in day-to-day life (how many kids do you have? How many people live in your village? Etc.), counting larger quantities of things just wouldn't be a fixation.

But we live in a world of big numbers and we need to learn how to deal with them in more than just a cold, calculating way.

$50 billion is a number that is so huge that most humans simply can't get their minds around it. Think of it this way: the difference between $50 billion and $60 billion doesn't seem that much to most humans because it is just the difference between 50 and 60. 10 isn't all that much right? But 10 billion certainly is a lot!

Yet $10 billion is also a big number. A number we can't deal with.

So we need a way to think about big numbers in a smaller, more human way.

The U.S. Census web page shows the population of the United States at 302,737,947. That includes babies.

Divide $50 billion by 302,737,947 and you get $165.16 per person.

$165 (rounding to dollars) is a number most people can deal with. They can deal with the concept of having to spend $165 for something much better than spending $50 billion.

George Bush is asking every person in the United States, including babies, to pony up an additional $165 dollars for his war in Iraq. Can you wrap your mind around that?

The current estimated cost of the war is $447,254,500,000 (according to costofwar.com). George Bush has already asked every person in the United States, including babies, to pay $1477 for his war in Iraq. Can you wrap your mind around that?

The estimated monthly cost of the war is $5.8 billion (according to military.com). George Bush is asking every person in the United States, including babies, to pay $19 per month for his war in Iraq. Can you wrap your mind around that?

Stop using numbers that people don't understand and maybe they will understand what they are being asked for.

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