As with most Americans, once we start talking about billions and trillions, things start falling out of my brain.
I deal with tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, on a regular basis. I remember the numbers that our budget is made up of. I know how much Shay earns. I know how much the family cell plan is, how much my dental payment plan is, how much our HSLDA membership is, how much I spend on food and clothing, and all the other expenses we have.
I never deal with millions, but I have a concept of them. I have a cousin-in-law who deals with multi-millions on a daily basis, and I cannot conceive of that.
Once we reach billions and trillions, though, my ability to conceptualize and retain the numbers fails me.
It isn’t that I can’t do the math. I love math. I was very good at it in school, and took every math course I could. I was bored in the lower grades, because they didn’t go fast enough for me. Then I entered the Gifted and Talented program, and had a ball. I took Trigonometry and AP Calculus in high school. I confess, I hated statistics, but I could do them just fine. It did bother me that there was math out there that I didn’t like. I was in our math club, and competed in a regional math competition (I took 4th place in Trig).
I learned BASIC and UCSD Pascal (which remained my favorite computer language because it was easy to understand as written (unlike Fortran or Assembler), yet brief (unlike COBOL).
When I hit college, I took another Calculus course, and Discreet Math. I hated Discreet Math, as it didn’t follow the rules of the math I knew and loved. But I did alright in it anyway. I took Fortran, Assembler, and COBOL. And I was there only a year (then I ended up in Bible college, but that’s another story).
Okay, now that I’ve established that I don’t have a problem with math…
We hear all these huge numbers being thrown around in Washington; they speak of cutting millions… no, BILLIONS! The deficit, the debt, the size of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Defense.
Do YOU keep it all in your head? Can you really conceive of these numbers, and remember their relationships to one another? I doubt it.
When they speak of spending billions, cutting billions, etc., it sounds like a lot. But when you look at the relationships of the numbers to one another, you realize that when they say “significant cuts”, “Draconian cuts”, or whatever, they are referring to a nearly meaningless amount. They are counting on the fact that you can’t hold all of the numbers in your head all the time, to enable them to snow you.
That’s why I like 10,000 Pennies so much. The guy who puts these videos together gives you representations (barrels of water, stacks of pennies, shots of whiskey) of the numbers which make them and their relationships to each other understandable. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of videos, and his most recent ones are 6 months old. Before that, his most recent ones are 1 and 2 years old. However, some of them are still relevant. Really, they are all still relevant, because even the ones that talk about older bills and such still show you how deceptive and devious the government is. They will blow your mind.
Here he is: http://www.youtube.com/user/10000Pennies
Listen fast — he talks fast.