Milda Aleknonytė | The Lithuania Tribune
Since the first global financial crisis of the 21st century, talking in numbers, especially big numbers has become increasingly more popular. A million here, a billion there… When talking about losses and state budgets, numbers in the trillions are being thrown around. According to the White House, the US budget deficit is expected to be 1.32 trillion dollars. Politicians let the word “trillion” slip off their tongues as easily as saying what time it is. So how much is one trillion dollars? Imagine you could spend one million dollars each day of your life. Most of us would say that is more than enough pocket-money. Well, if you started being that spendthrift, it would take you 2739.7 years to spend one trillion dollars. A sum that is less than the amount the United States of America plan to add to their debt this year alone.
It sometimes seems as if we try to hide behind those zeroes, making budget lines long and forming an illusion that the numbers are too big to grasp. What if one tried to simplify? Let us take the US budget from 2011 as an example.
Tax revenues: $2,303,466,000,000
Federal budget: $3,603,061,000,000
New debt: $1,299,595,000,000
National debt: $14,098,000,000,000
Budget cuts: $38,500,000,000
Now, if one would remove 8 zeroes and pretend it was a household budget:
Annual family income: $23,035
Money spent: $36,031
Increased debt on the credit card: $12,996
Outstanding balance on the credit card: $140,980
And the father of the family is proud, for he cut the annual family budget by $385. Of course, one must keep in mind that this is mixing macro with micro economics. There are certain social welfare costs the state has to pay and other inevitable expenses. Yet some politicians cannot resist using “the power of big numbers”. Budget cuts of almost 40 million dollars sound great, but a 0.25% reduction of the national debt does not sound sexy.
In an age where there is increasingly more information, there is a greater possibility to be manipulated by snippets of facts extracted from the big picture. Imagine you had to vote for one of the following politicians:
Politician A: consults with astrologists, has had two mistresses, is a chain smoker and drinks martini daily. Has been seen with crooked politicians.
Politician B: got kicked out of office twice, gets up at 11 a.m. earliest, used opium in collage, drinks champagne, brandy and whiskey to excess daily.
Politician C: thought of becoming a priest in his youth, is vegetarian, doesn’t smoke or drink and hasn’t had any extramarital affairs.
If you picked politician C, you just gave your vote to Adolf Hitler. Theodore Roosevelt (politician A) and Winston Churchill (politician B) would probably be disappointed. Next time you go to vote, it would be wise to value the candidates by their professional competences and presented plans, rather than biased descriptions in newspapers or television shows.
In the political arena and media such half-truths are toys often played with. One could call it the “Half Robin Hood syndrome” when certain figures try to picture their bad deeds in a positive format. Just like Robin Hood, someone takes money from the rich. And keeps it for themselves – hence, the half Robin Hood.
Those half-truths are not the only illusions we live with. Sometimes the truth seems more unrealistic than fiction – who would of ever dreamed that Rūta Meilutytė, a 15-year-old Lithuanian schoolgirl, would win the Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter breaststroke? Yet most probably all of us live in one illusion or another. While they sometimes help us overcome hard or painful life situations, other times the illusion of our greatness and the inability to see beyond our own plate is plainly sad. To illustrate, here is a fictional short story: a businessman is sitting next to a woman on a plane to Thailand. After a while he starts a conversation with her. “I am a successful businessman I have my own, world-wide furniture manufacturing business. Are you into business?” boasts the gentleman.
“Well, one could say I have a publishing business” answers the woman before getting back to her book.
“I am now going to open up a new factory that will employ 500 people. Now over 2,000 people will be working for me. Turnover and profits are great – steadily increasing by 15% for three years now. How many people work for you? Do you have a steady growth?” persists the businessman.
“1.5 or 2 employees, depending on how you look at it. I can’t say turnover is steady… I’m not too sure to be honest, probably wave-like. It takes time to write and publish a book” answers the woman.
“Ah, yes, well, no offence, but you need to be in total control of your finances, have great timing skills, be a good leader in order to have a steadily growing business. I, for example, have spent 15 years…” the businessman continues to tell his story.
“He must be a very good in what he does” J. K. Rowling thinks to herself as she returns to her book.