Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


This seem slightly out of bounds, but the recent uproar over whether the response of the U.S. and other wealthy countries to the tsunami disaster has been sufficiently non-stingy reminds me that most people don't have a good intuitive grasp of the magnitude of large numbers. A good example of such a person is GW Bush, who at his appearance before the press corp in Crawford yesterday repeatedly said, with emphasis on the B, that the U.S. has pledged $35 billion for disaster relief.

Not so oh strong and resolute leader! The correct number is $35 million (much of that, as far as I can tell, in the form of loans).

One billion is one thousand times one million (here in the U.S. - the British have their own, strange ways of speaking). As a comparison, the war in Iraq -- you know, the one where we eliminated all of those Weapons of Mass Destruction (tm) -- has so far cost at least $200 billion. Compared to even $1 billion, $35 million is still pretty close to nothing -- specifically, it is 3.5 percent of $1 billion. It is .035% of $100 billion, and it is .00175% of $200 billion, or .0000175 X $200 billion.

Just to put it in context.