Quick, How Much is $135 billion in Germany Over the Next Fifteen Years

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Saturday, 02 November 2013 07:50

The New York Times has committed itself to changing the way it writes large numbers so that they actually convey information to readers. A piece today on Germany's economic policy shows the need for this change.

At one point the article referred to Germany's infrastructure needs, telling readers:

"A recent study said that Germany would have to spend more than €100 billion, or about $135 billion, over the next 15 years just to repair its existing stock of roads, bridges and railways, which in populous areas of western Germany have been neglected for years."

Okay, we can all appreciate the euro to dollar conversion, but how many NYT readers have any clue how large $135 billion over the next 15 years is to Germany's economy? I suspect the number is well under 1 percent of the NYT's highly educated readers.

It would have been a simple matter to tell readers that this is equal to about 0.25 percent of Germany's projected GDP over this period or less than 0.5 percent of projected government spending. This would have been far more meaningful to the vast majority of the people reading the article.