The dangers of math illiteracy

The other day, I listened and watched as my wife (a management analyst by profession, specializing in solid waste management) taught a woman in her thirties – an intelligent woman – how to calculate interest rates and loan payments. Things she had not been taught in 12 years of public primary and secondary education and four years of college. It took Debby about fifteen minutes to teach what many of us consider a fairly essential skill in the States (and many other places) today.

Math Illiteracy Affects 7 Out Of Every 5 People

This seems to be a sign of our times, here in the 21st Century American States.

The woman is far from alone: in teaching about hazardous waste operations, solid waste management, emergency response, and traffic safety, we often find people from their teens to their sixties incapable of doing basic mathematics. No, not even as advanced as calculus or even algebra: but basic junior-high and high-school level math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, slopes, percentages, and “word problems.” And this applies even to people with college educations and advanced degrees.

Here is a recent example, posted by Tom Knapp over at Freedom Net Daily, from a prestigious journal, “Responsible Statecraft.” Realizing it is a rather long quote (to provide the setting), pay attention to the last sentence.

“Despite Russian hints, there is no evidence that the United States was involved in the latest violent protests in Kazakhstan. However, there now exists a strong temptation for America to get involved — and it is a temptation that must be firmly resisted by the Biden administration. Aspects of the latest unrest remain unclear. It has been suggested that it was partly caused by struggles within the Kazakh elites between supporters and opponents of former President Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev, who until this week retained considerable power over the government. The most important underlying reason for the unrest however is entirely clear. It lies in the gross mismatch between Kazakhstan’s huge revenues from energy exports (more than $30 billion in 2021), the vast wealth of its elites, and the poverty of the mass of its population, with an average household income last year of only $3,200.” (01/10/22)

Now, Wikipedia says that Kazakhstan has about 19 million people. When you divide $30 billion – every cent of the “huge revenues from energy exports” by 19 million, that comes out to about $1,700 per year. Even if the average household has four members, that increases the average household income to just $10,000 per year. Now, that is a WHOLE lot better than $3,200. We’re not arguing that.

But no way can every penny of what Kazakhstan earns from exporting energy can be evenly spread. For one thing, the actual profit – even counting what Kazakh workers in the industry earn – is probably only half (if that). Just the cost of equipment and materials which have to be imported to the small nation greatly reduces what is available – even in a communist or neo-communist country. Half is $15 billion, or $3,400 per household per year. Again this would increase average household income by more than double. But that is still pretty small.

And note the $3,200 is an AVERAGE. That means it includes all that elite with their vast wealth – so the least-prosperous half of the people probably have less than a quarter of the average. (Again, if that.) But even if you take just the skilled and educated labor (for the energy industry and other professions) into account, and the costs of their training – well, guess what gets a huge chunk of that oil money?

The point is, the writer of this article (not Tom, but the “RS” guy) does not understand simple math and how costs, profit (and loss) and revenues work.

It doesn’t take a math genius or a degree in macro-economics to figure this stuff out. But it is clear that the politicians and the decision makers – and especially the talking heads and others of media – have no clue at all.

It is worse at the day-to-day levels of business. How many cashiers at your local burger joint, or grocery store, can really do the simple math to give you back the right amount of change? (It is an argument, I supposed, to use plastic to pay for everything. Just don’t ask for cash back!) How many government-run, tax-funded school teachers know enough math to teach their students? (And sadly, how many PARENTS know enough to teach their home-schoolers? At least they can take advantage of on-line resources. And most important, they CARE about what the children learn.)

Every time we read some demand to make the rich pay more, or claim that the rich and the corporations can pay for every additional trillion of government spending, we see the dangers of math illiteracy.

And we are that much closer to a total collapse of our economy and therefore our society, as the parasites vote us out of home and business and prosperity.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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1 Response to The dangers of math illiteracy

  1. Bartholomew says:

    During my 34 years in IT I cannot count the number of times I performed a very basic “back of the envelope” sanity check estimate in my head on costs, user load, cycle times, memory and archive requirements, etc. and was looked at by my co-workers or clients as being from Mars. For the record, I was always within a couple percent of the actual numbers.

    That Target (and others) can very successfully price pint bottles of something at $1.00 and the quart version at $2.39 confirms the ailment is widespread (and, yes, I recognize the price difference is affected by economies of scale and the resultant production and sales volumes, but so much of the population being being math ignorant is what makes it so successful at the retail level).

    At one organization during a cost/benefit discussion with the Very Top Management I brought up burden rate, about which they knew absolutely nothing, as in they had never heard the term before. I explained what burden rate was and how it was calculated and thought at least some of it sunk in. A few weeks later they presented a burden rate figure which was determined by totaling the dollars spent on all employee costs and dividing by the number of employees – a simple “guzinta.” I started into explaining again what true burden rate was and stopped midway through the first sentence; what they had was wrong, but it was a number they understood so I modified my proposals to use their numbers.


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