Friday, July 15, 2011

Counting up

Over at Orphans of Liberty, Angry Exile has been trying the perennial trick of attempting to put the government's spending figures into some kind of understandable perspective.
Well, this sort of thing has been done before of course, but since that picture has a bit of cash in it I thought it’d be interesting in a random kind of way to start from there. In it I can see a couple of tenners, a couple of twenties and 22 £1 coins. If you were to throw away that £82 and follow it up by throwing away another £82 a minute later and so on and so on then in 24 hours you’d have thrown away just over a hundred grand—£118,080 to be precise—and if you kept it up for a year you’d have chucked just over £43 million. But if you started a little while ago, actually just over two thousand years ago at midnight on New Year’s Day, year Zero AD, then by now you’d have thrown away only—hah, only—£86 billion and some change. Change in this case meaning £730,232,238. Clearly a long way to go to equal the UK’s debt by chucking away money at that same rate of £82 per minute—and let’s be honest if we saw someone chucking away eighty quid every sixty seconds we’d think he was an idiot. Starting from 0AD again, from today you’d have to keep going for another 44,373 years. Worse still, you wouldn’t finish until halfway through October.

Whilst on holiday (because we do these sorts of things), the wife and I tried to work this a slightly different way.

Assuming one number a second, how long would it take to count to one million...?

Well, there are 86,400 seconds in a twenty-four hour day; so, divide 1,000,000 by 86,400...

So, assuming one minute per second, it would take 11.6 days to count to one million (counting non-stop for twenty-four hours per day).

Now, these days, one billion tends to be counted as 1,000 millions, so how long (assuming the same rate) would it take to count to one billion? Well...

1,000,000,000 / 86,400 = 11,574.1 days / 365 = 31.7 years.

That's right: assuming one number per second, for twenty-four hours a day, every single day, it would take one person roughly 32 years to count to one billion.

This year, the government is spending roughly £700 billion which, by the same measure, would take one person about 22,197 years—yes, that's 222 centuries—to count to. So, starting now, they would finish in, roughly, the year 24208.

That's quite long time.


Mark M said...

My favourite 'government numbers' exercise is to look at the Effect of Taxes and Benefits on Household Incomes, as prepared by the ONS.

In there, you find such wonderful gems as every single household decile group pays more in taxes (direct and indirect) than they get as 'benefits in kind' from the NHS. Yes, even the poorest 10% in this country pay more in tax than they get back from the NHS.

Which makes me wonder, why don't we just let everyone keep their money and spend it on whatever healthcare provision they want? The whole argument about the poor not being able to afford healthcare is bogus - they could quite easily afford if only the government didn't tax them so much.

Anonymous said...

Don't be silly. You couldn't count one number every second for so long. By the time you got to 46 million 987 thousand 675 ,just for example, it would take you longer than a second to even say it.

Xopher said...

Your numbers are bit on the BIG side. I tried a practical method of equating it to the price of a pint at the local but my bladder told me to stop.

TheFatBigot said...

I'm not sure it's appropriate to use total government expenditure as the comparator. Some of what they spend is necessary on any rational view.

It would take a very long time to count up to the number of pounds spent on the barest essentials of police, fire service, armed forces and criminal justice system. The numbers are huge but they have to be huge because we are an advanced economy in which people earn good wages and essential equipment for essential services costs a packet.

Once you give the numbers relating to the essentials you are already talking figures that, I would suggest, are meaninglessly huge to the vast majority of the population.

The two relevant comparators are: (i) the amount government borrows to make up for the fact it spends more than it raises in taxes and (ii) the amount government spends on patently non-essential crap.

NickM said...

Pedantry alert!
There never was a "Year Zero". It went 1BC to 1AD.

Anonymous said...

We owe 4.8T. So if you were to borrow £1,000,000 every day from the birth of Socrates 469 BC, until today, you still wouldn't have enough money to pay this debt. Think on that!

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