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.

The Undercover Economist: a guide

Publishing schedule: Excerpts from "The Undercover Economist" and "Dear Economist", Tim's weekly columns for the FT Magazine, are published on this blog on Saturday mornings.
More about Tim: Tim also writes editorials for the FT, presents Radio 4's More or Less and is the author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life".
Comment: To comment, please register with, which you can do for free here. Please also read our comments policy here.
Contact: Tim's contact address is:
Time: UK time is shown on posts.
Follow: A link to the blog's RSS feeds is at the top of the page.
Follow on Twitter
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.