Short and Sweet

Thinking in big numbers

Big numbers do not register with most people. Thinking in millions is difficult. Billions are a major challenge, trillions nearly impossible. The reason for this, says Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty, is that big numbers are usually offered in isolation without the benefit of comparison – numbers without an appropriate anchor, so to speak. People need some sort of measuring stick to give the numbers meaning. She recently offered some interesting tactics for making big numbers meaningful. Here is one of them:

“[T]hink of it [big numbers],” she says, “in terms of time, like Richard Panek, a professor at Goddard College in Vermont and a Guggenheim fellow in science writing. There are 1 million seconds in roughly 11½ days. There are 1 billion seconds in around 31 years. And there are 1 trillion seconds in around 31,000 years.”

Now the new Secretary of the Treasury is telling us that we need to ‘act big’ and worry about the $27,752,835,868,445.35 (as of January 19, 2021) national debt later.


Do you find the Biden administration’s approach to big numbers a bit unnerving?
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