Our brains evolved on the African grassland, but they generally still work fine. One exception–among many–is large numbers. As behavioral economists have shown, we pretty much react the same to $200 million as we do to $200 billion–even though the former is just 99.9% of the latter.*
And that’s where infographics come in. For a long time now, David McCandless has been putting together something called the Billion-Dollar-o-Gram, which seeks to compare the outsize figures you see most often in the news, ranging from the cost of the war in Iraq to the estimated cost to create a green economy. Looked at in perspective, you start to wonder how the hell our priorities got so screwed up:
Obviously, the numbers belie a great deal of complexity (which you can find by viewing McCandless’s source list). But still, they’re sobering: For example, is the cost to create green economies in the developing world really so small, when compared to something as seemingly futile as the War on Drugs? And never mind the amount we’ve spent on Iraq and Afghanistan (and the amount we were supposed to spend).
It should be law that whenever a big number is thrown up anywhere, it comes with a chart for comparison.
For a bigger taste of McCandless’s work, click on our slideshow.
*If you want to get pissed off, just pay attention sometime to how poorly the news handles big numbers, and their relative size. For example: Malpractice-lawsuit reform isn’t going to fix health care costs, even if it might save $30 billion. Why? Because it’s still just 1% of our $2 trillion medical industry. Nonetheless, many political clowns act as if it will be enough to fix everything.