Sunday, July 21, 2024

Why Are We Suckers For Big Numbers?

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Big numbers – they have the ability to anger some while at the same time providing comfort to others. Big numbers – they can be transparent, they can be confusing, and often they are wildly deceptive.

Whenever I see people getting worked up over a big number, or whenever I receive a press release from any level of government that includes big numbers, my first inclination is to haul out the calculator. Now I’m no mathematician, and in fact numbers generally cause my eyes to burn, but I can do some simple math.

Take for example a press release I received from the Ontario government just today. Ontario’s Liberal government seems particularly fond of trumpeting large, meaningless numbers, and this press release was no different.

“Ontario Promotes Climate Change Education” boasted the headline of the press release which went on to inform that “Ontario is helping educate its youngest citizens about climate change and the simple actions their families can take to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The province is investing nearly $1 million over three years to support Earth Rangers, the largest environmental conservation organization in Canada, to deliver fun, science-based school assembly programming in more locations across Ontario, develop and deliver a new Grade 6 classroom presentation on climate change, and educate children and their families about activities they can do at home and in their community to lower their carbon footprints.”

$1 million, that is a lot of cash. That kind of number will have ill informed lefties thinking ‘nice job province of Ontario’ while knee-jerk, reactionaries will bemoan the announcement as a waste of valuable dollars in order to placate the more socialist set.

We see this very same thing at all levels of government, including municipal – large numbers tossed about that either give people hope, or get them worked up, while some simple number crunching could ease the minds of the fiscally conservative folk, and at the same time help the socially concerned to realize that sometimes what seems like a big step forward is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Before I get off on a tangent, let’s stick to the sample press release noted above.

$1 million over three years, might seem significant, but consider that there are some 3,980 elementary schools in Ontario, which means that the dollars per school to be spent on this climate change education plan is a whopping $83.75 per school, per year.


Perhaps I’m being unfair, and there is a better way to try and parse the numbers for this $1 million investment.

The primary target of this climate change education according to the provincial government are grade 6 students. As of the 2013 – 2014 school year, there were 133,838 grade 6 students in Ontario. Those who are good with numbers can already see where this is heading.

Given the $1 million investment over three years, and the number of grade 6 students in Ontario, this big, huge investment amounts to roughly $2.49 per grade 6 student, per year.

To the more liberal-set, I would ask: How do you like that major investment in climate change education now? Is the Liberal government really making a significant investment in education our kids about climate change, or is it just smoke and mirrors?

To the more conservative among us I would ask: What the heck are you complaining about? Is it really worth bursting a blood vessel for every million you think government is wasting? Is it really worth complaining about spending $2.49 per grade 6 student?

As I mentioned, this is just one sample press release, but we see these big numbers tossed around in the media and by governments every day. We need to start asking ourselves more often what the numbers really mean.

Before getting worked up over large numbers, and precious tax dollars, before accusing governments of wasting money; conversely, before thinking that your government’s got your back and will invest huge amounts of money to solve the problem of the day, the lesson for both is – don’t be fooled by big numbers!

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