Fun with numbers

Updated May 2017.  [Previously published as a letter to the editor, Leavenworth Times, February 2011]

I originally wrote this page in 2010, but I have updated it to May 2017.  I looked up all the numbers, and compared to the old version, found surprising changes.  Some of these changes may be due to faulty statistics – there’s no way to be certain.  To summarize, GDP is up and life expectancies are up, especially in Russia.

Some may not know the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – The CIA – maintains a database on each country in the world, and anyone can look at it online at: It’s called the World Factbook, and it’s updated every time something changes. There’s lots of information there. If you plan to travel to a foreign country, it’s a good idea to check there first.

Look up Russia, and you get some startling facts. They have roughly 142.4 million people, who at birth have a life expectancy of only 70.8 years, females 76.6 and males only 65 years! Maybe it’s the vodka. Or, the climate.  (2010 – 140 million, 66 years total, females 73, males only 59.5.  Note – the numbers have changed drastically; perhaps the 2010 numbers were flawed.)

Russia’s population is currently shrinking slightly, – .06 percent per year.  (2010 – birth rate 11.6, death rate 13.7, population was shrinking by a half percent per year.)

Their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the sum of all goods and services sold in a year, was only an estimated 3.74 trillion in U.S. Dollars in 2016. That’s only about $26,100 per person – man, woman, and child.  (2010 – 2.1 trillion dollars, $$15,000 per person)

Now, look at the United States. (Yes, the CIA spies on us as well.)  For 2016, we have an estimated 324 million people with a life expectancy at birth of 79.9 years (male 77.5, female 82.1). Our population is growing at nearly .81 percent per year.   (2010 –310 million, 78.2  years total, females 80.8, males only 75.8.  Note – The numbers have changed drastically; has life expectancy grown that much in six years?)

Our GDP is estimated at 18.56 trillion dollars, or about $57,300 per person.  Nice contrast. China is number one at around 21.3 trillion dollars (expressed in purchasing power, a change from the CIA reporting in 2010.)  (2010: GDP 14.1 trillion, $46,000 per person.  There is little doubt that China has expanded GDP, but the way of measuring it makes a great deal of difference.)  China’s per capita is only $15,400.  The European Union, the conglomeration of countries that use the Euro for money, is currently second at 19.180 Trillion, but this is the sum of many countries.   The United States is 2nd behind China if you don’t count the Euro Union.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that our deficit for 2015 will be about 1.74% of GDP, or around 587 billion dollars in Fiscal Year 2016.  Federal spending is projected to be 4.1 trillion dollars.

Some claim Americans are the fattest people in the world, but our ranking, last compiled in 2014, in the current CIA World Factbook for obesity is 18th of 191 nations ranked.   The estimate for the United States is 33%, and we are virtually tied with Islamic nations Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Bahrain, all of whom are about the same.  The honor of fattest goes to American Samoa, at 74.6%, and other South Sea island nations are also near the top.  The skinniest rank goes to Ethiopia, at  1.1%.  Viet Nam is 186th at 1.7%.

I wrote the following in 2010:  (unchanged from the original)

And, the federal government is now running a big deficit every year. That means we’ll have to borrow money to pay for the uber-spending. How much? Take a look at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) website, – a hard site to navigate through, but if you look at publications, by subject, budget and economic information, you’ll come to their analysis of the president’s 2011 budget. On about page 3 of that, there is a table laying it out. CBO’s estimates are that the government will take in 2,402 billion dollars, or 2.4 trillion if you prefer, and will spend 3,802 for a deficit of 1,342. So, we’ll need to boost the debt ceiling to about 15.4 trillions, theoretically only over the dead bodies of the conservative members of the House of Representatives. Do they have the cojones to stand firm? Doubtful.

Why? Because there are some sacred cows in the budget – no one wants to kick them. A good place to look to see what the government will likely spend is where you will find a pie chart showing that entitlements – health, welfare, and pensions, a.k.a. Medicare/Medicaid, Safety Net Programs, and Social Security will total 56 percent of the budget, or around 2,129 billion dollars. It’s dangerous to try to reform those, since you’re messing with voters who receive those benefits. Those programs are growing with the population. Then, there’s defense: about 912.5 billion dollars. All the other functions of the government total about 760 billion, but that includes over 2000 subsidy programs, such as farm subsidies, which vary from about 30 to 100 billion dollars a year depending on market conditions.

The government is predicted to spend $3,802,000,000,000 this year. Divided by the projected 311,500,000 people in the United States, that comes to $12,205.46 per man, woman, and child. That’s just a tad under Russia’s GDP per person.

Remember, all the numbers quoted here are estimates. They may change if Congress actually does anything about them.

End of what I wrote in 2010.

Numbers are wonderful. Trust me, I was a math major. But numbers can get out of control. Just ask the people in Greece, Tunisia, and Great Britain, where riots have recently taken place due to austerity cuts in spending. Ask the people in Ireland, Portugal, California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan . . . and maybe soon, the United States.



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