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What’s In A Number?

Photo Credit: iStockphoto/Dan Talson

Photo Credit: iStockphoto / Dan Talson

What’s in a number? I mean, really. I’d sure like to know. All our lives, we base everything on these imaginary counting things.

Right from the beginning, numbers are engrained into our way of thinking. We know as soon as our brains start remembering things that “5” is the magic number and the age at which we start school. From there, the next number we tend to get excited about is “10” (the year we start the double-digit age; which is kind of ironic because it’s also most likely the same number of digits of age we have when we die).

Next on the list: “13” (a teenager), “18” (the year we can vote, drive a car, graduate high school and become an adult), “21” (the year we can officially drink), “40” (when the cruel, ‘over the hill’ jokes begin). We also celebrate big anniversaries with numbers like a 25th High School Reunion or a 50th Wedding Anniversary.

But all that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how we use numbers. They’re in the code that run our computers (“1″ and “0”). in the identification we need to remember in order to unlock our smart phones and get money out of an ATM machine. Numbers are so important, that we actually have to study them in school for years.

Now that I’m “43” (not a bad number if you ask me), you’d probably expect me to have a pretty good understanding of them. But even after all of my experiences of going through most of the aforementioned cases of numbers, (I’m still working on that 50th anniversary thing), I’m still finding myself dumbfounded at how some people seem to care more about certain numbers while ignoring others.

We’re all familiar with “cooking the books”; a process where financial numbers are manipulated in order to produce a favorable (and often times illegal) result. But I’m talking about how numbers are used to favor a certain way of thinking.

Here’s where my confusion lies.

1. The most recent jobs report just came out, and the unemployment rate is at 7.9%.  Payrolls rose “157,000” in January. Not good news.

2. Gasoline prices once averaged “$1.93″a gallon four years ago and are now “$3.42″ for that same gallon. Yep, bad bad.

And yet, here’s a number that everyone seems to overlook when they think the world is ending and the Soviets are about to take over: “14,000”.

I’m sure for some people, this may seem like a miniscule number in the grand scheme of things (heck, you can’t even buy a decent new car now-a-days for that price). But, look a little deeper. Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 14,000, and is nearing it’s ‘all-time’ high. This average is used to measure (among other things), how stocks and big businesses are performing and doing financially.

At the end of January 2009, the Dow was at “8,000″ and has since increased more than 40%.

Now, I don’t care which side of the aisle you’re on, but if we’re focusing on how bad gas prices and jobs are, then why are we overlooking the fact that the other end of the business spectrum is performing better than ever?

Hmmm, something sure smells like number “2” to me.

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