MusingsPoliticsWorld Affairs

Millions, Billions and Trillions

This morning, while listening to Radio 4 (I know, see this short) I started a train of thought about how numbers are thrown around in the media, and how people possibly don’t fully appreciate what they mean.

People talk about something costing £56 million, £15 billion or the EU bailout fund which runs into trillions. When someone says “x is costing £113 billion”, do people really comprehend how much that is?

Firstly, there’s the confusion of whether a billion is a thousand million or a million million – see here for details.

Secondly, I’m not sure that simply changing 1 or two letters of a word is enough distinction to make people realise that when you say billion, you mean a thousand million. 1 thousand is a big number. It would take you a while to count to a thousand, a thousand pounds is a lot of money for the vast majority of the planet (etc etc). £1 trillion on the other hand, is an enormously large amount of money.

I think I can comprehend how much a million pounds is, but I’m not sure if I can comprehend how much a billion is, let alone a trillion.

Perhaps if the media portrayed numbers in more comprehensible terms then people may have a greater insight into the current financial position we find ourselves in (perhaps if the people who led us here understood the numbers they were dealing with we might never have gotten to where we are, but that’s the subject for an entire blog, never mind latching that onto this post!).

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