A Number of Challenges

Friday, December 19, 2008

Transcript

Journalists and audiences are struggling to comprehend the many numbers in the news these days. How much is $14 billion, or $50 billion, or $700 billion, besides well...a lot? And how can reporters help people understand these figures? Journalist and co-author of The Numbers Game, Michael Blastland says context is everything.

Comments [5]

Dominique Pierce

Every time there is announcement of job losses, layoffs and lower sales, the numbers are almost always given as drops or "plunges" from the highest, most recent sales and job numbers, which is not fairly representing the situation. There are Political Economy professors in the U.S. that won't bother to teach students to know the difference between the total number of dollars the U.S. deficit and the percent the deficit is of the GDP. All so they could rail against free market economics.

Mar. 31 2011 11:21 AM
Hector from Caracas, Venezuela

Es cierto lo que plantea este artículo. Las cifras bailan sobre nuestras cabezas y no sabemos nunca si es mucho o es poco.

Jan. 26 2009 04:04 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Even worse than not understanding large numbers is the media and liberals using them as cudgels to prevent substantive public policy discussions. There are Political Economy professors in the U.S. that won't bother to teach students to know the difference between the total number of dollars the U.S. deficit and the percent the deficit is of the GDP. All so they could rail against free market economics.

Dec. 23 2008 09:58 PM
Cleo Parker from Livonia Michigan

Bob's comment regarding the "costs to the economy" remind me of nothing so much as when I was asked to forecast auto industry sales many years ago; my only resource at the time being the trade press. When I added up all the boasts of how much the various brands were planning to sell, US sales alone were well north of 20 million! Not that they couldn't build that many, the overcapacity in the industry has been at staggering proportions for years.

To Sherman's comments - I've worked in automotive for more than 20 years and the lowest figure I recall was 13.2 million in the early 80s - going from 16 to 11 is big drop and not something any of the OEMs were prepared for. They were spending one heck of a lot of incentive money to keep sales that high over the last few years, as there are some counter intuitive forces in the system that make it almost as expensive to shut down factories as to leave them running.

Dec. 21 2008 07:25 PM
Sherman Aronson from Philadelphia, PA

Finally someone on the media pointing out that the media have been exaggerating many aspects of the economic slowdown. Phrases like "ground to a halt" are terribly misleading and wrong. They seem to form a pattern of spreading fear and anxiety in our society, and NPR is not guiltless in this matter.
Every time there is announcement of job losses, layoffs and lower sales, the numbers are almost always given as drops or "plunges" from the highest, most recent sales and job numbers, which is not fairly representing the situation.
For instance, I work for a small firm that grew from 65 to 130 since 2004, but 30 people were laid off in August when a big project was put on hold. Does that mean we have shrunk by 25% this year, or that we have grown by 60% over 4 years?
Similarly, the US automakers have sold 11 million cars this year - that is not nothing, and it is about what was sold (or leased?) a few years ago before the peak in 2007 of 16 million. It seems that these companies can learn to make a profit on 11 million sales, without "collapsing".
Regarding the Madoff investments, certainly people with investments have made withdrawals of some funds over the last 20 years. And the "$50 billion" is the exaggerated paper value of the "assets" at their recent high over-estimation. What is the actual value of the principal invested by people that is truly lost?
Thanks for the great report by your guest today, and for the opportunity to respond.
Sherman Aronson

Dec. 21 2008 11:53 AM

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