A past episode of Radiolab surprised me with some amazing information: people naturally don't understand numbers, especially the *difference* between numbers.
Go to around 4:00.
To a baby, the difference between 1 and 2 is huge, but the distance from 8 to 9 is small!
This is because 2 is twice 1.... but 9 is only one more than 8.
At this point, there are some people out there saying "well, duh". ^_^ But there are also some computer geeks and math heads having a TOTAL FREAKOUT. I repeat TOTAL FREAKOUT. These are people who don't normally have freakouts.
That means that the people who never really got the knack for math think that 20,000 and 50,000 are kind of far apart... but don't think there's so much difference between one million and two million. It's like that statement some rich people make: after a certain point, it's only keeping score.
That means they're so rich that they don't comprehend the value of the money.
Meanwhile, there are people struggling to get from ZERO or NEGATIVE net worth to . And they struggle because the very wealthy no longer comprehend the value of money -- so they are willing to tolerate even support the capitalists who would pay people less money than it costs to survive in this society.
But back to the people not good at math. These are the working class, because in this society, people who can't run a budget, who can't forecast, are at a severe disadvantage. If you're lousy at math, you're at a perpetual disadvantage in this society. The people slightly more astute are in the middle class - though the labor movement and military have made the middle class life available to people lousy at math.
Then there are the affluent and almost rich, who are people making over around 200,000 a year. There are the more rich, who make around 500,000 a year. And above that, the super-rich, who make 10, 20, 50 even more million dollars per year.
These are exponentially bigger numbers... which are beyond the comprehension of even people who are numerically capable. To someone who still sees numbers logarithmically, this is totally beyond comprehension.
To someone who perceives numbers logarithmically, someone earning 20,000 a year will see someone earing 60,000 a year a "having a lot of money", because this person earning 60,000 is making triple the wages.
Yet, to this same person, someone earning 60,000 is the same "distance" from someone earning 180,000 a year. That's to say, they may think of a teacher and a physician as roughly the same "distance apart" in wealth as a teacher is from a retail associate.
Does that feel right to you? It feels kind of correct to me.... but this feeling is WRONG and DECEPTIVE!
Numerically, the distance between 20,000 and 60,000 is 40,000.
The same distance from 60,000 is 100,000. That doesn't feel quite the same eh?
Yet, in real terms, the real-world value of that second 40,000 dollars is much greater than the first 40,000, because that first 40,000 dollars is being spent on things like housing, a car, and raising kids. It's being used up, while the second 40,000 is being saved and invested and turned into capital that's used to exploit the labor of the poorest among us.
So, here's the problem. Until people understand the real differences in wealth, and learn to feel discomfort about the existence of the super-rich and rich, we won't be in a position to mobilize people to fight against the rampant wealth-accumulation happening in America (and the world) today.
To this end, we need to improve our math education. Seriously. We cannot allow the big capitalists to hire away all the potential math teachers, and have them making bombs and financial products.
Already, we pay math teachers more than others due to the labor shortage - and we need to continue this to pay them even more. We need math teachers for adults. We need math used on the television and internet, in videos.
We need to think of wealth using a well developed sense of numbers, not with our emotions, which have been proven to mis-perceive numbers.