Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

America's Most Serious Math Problem Is Not What You Think

Author: David Yee
Created: 30 July, 2018
Updated: 17 October, 2022
2 min read

Another common core complaint? Nope. Failing at our standardized testing? Not even close.

America's worst math problem right now is in how we talk about numbers in our daily lives, especially in political conversations.

It's easy to talk about billions and trillions in political discussions. It's like moving around little counting chips, each one with a trillion dollars stamped on it. All you have to do is be able to count to 100.

But therein lies the problem.

We can talk about a $13 billion super-carrier like the USS Gerald Ford, but it's not-so-easy to talk about the lives impacted by its construction. The people's salaries, the overall impact on the economy, or even funding the interest on such a large-scale project--all are difficult if not impossible to understand.

Right now in America, less than 25% of the population has access to $10,000 in cash savings--accessible at a moment's notice. Sure, many have larger amounts in their 401-k or home equity, but we're talking about real cash--for real emergencies.

A $25,000 emergency is completely inconceivable to most Americans. Most would have no clue as to what to do if they needed this kind of money overnight.

We can talk and argue about our government's budget like complete experts. We can talk about billions and trillions like it is no amount of money at all--like it was some amount we fully understood.

But we don't.

Joseph Stalin was attributed to saying, 'A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.' Somehow our thinking has become backward to this when it comes to money.

We can convince ourselves that we understand the nature of the $4.09T federal budget, yet when it comes to understanding small needs and emergencies we are clueless.

We can talk down social services programs in our political discussions, but in the event of a true emergency--a whole lot of people truly need them.

And this is where the disconnect exists in America's political mathematics: The spending of trillions is a tragedy, but the individual lives affected by cuts (or increases) is merely a statistic.

If we really want to be good political mathematicians, we have to accept that the economy is complicated. That an increase here or a decrease there affects real people's lives. Because in the end, it's always complicated--just like math.

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