The joy of small numbers

Michael Blastland, co-founder of More or Less, has a way with numbers:

The language of politics is billions. Billions up, billions down, billions more, billions cut. Feeling dizzy about the state of the public finances when one telephone number of pounds succeeds another?
Here’s a simple alternative, a language politicians seldom use, perhaps because it would be revealing… we’re talking shares here, or proportions. Not billions.
So two is about the percentage share of what the nation has each year that the government spends on defence. Two is also the percentage share by which defence has been cut in about the last 20 years…
Two is also roughly the extra percentage share of national income that the government put into health over about five years to provide those record quantities of billions we were often told about.

The whole thing is revealing.

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.