Visualisation of large financial numbers

The well-known web comic xkcd has created a very detailed visualisation of what the large financial numbers, like millions and billions, actually mean. It’s sometimes difficult to comprehend exactly what it means when newsreaders mention a debt of £1 billion.

This visualisation is rather US-centric, but much of the information displayed is valuable for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. It starts with individual dollars, then compounds them to thousands (shrinking the scale). Continuing on to millions, billions and finally trillions, it gives a clear indication of just how much money we’re talking about. Check out the diagram here: (you will need to zoom in!).

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Thursday, December 8th, 2011 Economy No Comments

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The Logic of Life

A little over a year ago, I recommended Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist. Now, I can also recommend his latest book, The Logic of Life, to anyone who wants to understand how economic “rational” thinking affects all of us every day.

In The Logic of Life, Tim explains how all of us act rationally (that is, with reasoned self-interest) every day, even in some situations where we think we are acting purely emotionally or altruistically. He demonstrates that some actions which appear to be irrational (like government subsidies that benefit only a few special-interest groups but increase tax for many other voters – surely the government would try to please the most voters?) are actually rational. He doesn’t argue that every decision we make is completely rational, just very many of those that we don’t even spend time thinking about.

My favourite part is where he gives several reasons why your boss is overpaid – something we’ve all wondered in the past, and it’s both reassuring and disconcerting to learn that there might be a legitimate reason for it. More disconcerting is the chapter explaining that racism can be rational – and demonstrating that while rationality may be more prevalent than we expect, it is not always to be applauded.

If you’d like to get some insight into a few of life’s little mysteries, click on the link to the right to buy the book. You’ll be helping to support this website and you might just learn something!

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Saturday, August 21st, 2010 Economy No Comments

Pound’s Euro rate improves

With the economy having improved over the last couple of months, and many people last year choosing to have a cheaper holiday and stay in the UK, perhaps this year there’ll be more of us thinking of treating ourselves to a trip to Europe this summer. And if you’re one of them, good news – over the last few weeks the Euro exchange rate has improved significantly!

Although €1.20 to the pound is not what you might consider a great rate, it’s not been at that level since the pound plummetted at the end of 2008. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news – this improvement is not due to the pound getting stronger but the Euro getting weaker – the pound continues to fall against the Yen and the Dollar (although it has seen a recent rally on this last count). The BBC’s Gavin Hewitt has written a great blog post explaining why the Euro is in such trouble.

When will the pound return to its previous strong position? Well, the rates we remember of a few years ago such as 2 dollars to the pound are not going to return anytime soon, but if confidence in the UK economy increases then investors will value the pound more. An increase in UK interest rates would also give a boost (since saving pounds then becomes more worthwhile) – but this would impact on mortgage interest rates for a lot of homeowners. Would you rather find it easier to pay your mortgage every month, or have a bit extra holiday money in the summer?

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Friday, June 11th, 2010 Foreign Currency 3 Comments


I’ve previously mentioned the book Freakonomics as an interesting read which explains how economic thought can be applied to many different (and unusual) areas of the world around us. Well, the same authors (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) have recently released a follow-up book, Superfreakonomics.

This book covers in quite some depth topics such as finding solutions to global warming, using statistical analysis to find terrorists (particularly relevant at the moment) and why the solutions to big problems are often simple. I personally found that a few of these chapters strayed further from the economics-based descriptions that defined the first book – concentrating more on the details of possible solutions to global warming than the economic forces working on those solutions, for example.

Having said that, the chapter about the economics of prostitution is very much like the previous book’s chapter on drug dealing – because the relevant studies the authors were reporting on were done by the same researcher. It offers some of the detailed analysis that I felt made the first book accessible – explaining why the data gathered (and the methods used to gather the data) can tell you things you wouldn’t otherwise find out.

A very entertaining read which unfortunately is over too quickly – but the epilogue is my favourite part of the whole book, where they explain briefly the impact of explaining to monkeys the concept of money!

Click on the link to the right to buy the book from Amazon, and you’ll be doing your bit to support this site!

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Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 Economy No Comments


I mentioned in an earlier post that The Undercover Economist was a good book for anyone trying to get an understanding of how economics shapes our world. As a reader pointed out at the time, another good book is Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, to give it its full title, explores not just how the financial side of everyday life is determined, but also how economics applies to other parts of life. There are details of interesting studies into how the name of a child affects his or her employability later in life, how statistical analysis can spot cheating sumo wrestlers, and why most drug dealers still live with their mother.

Where The Undercover Economist explains how economic theory and practice affect us on a day-to-day level, Freakonomics goes into the detail of how a wider application of economics can tell us more about the world, and even explains some of the methodology used to spot trends and draw conclusions. The analysis work is covered in some detail but never gets boring – the writing style is clear and entertaining, leaving you to think about the implications of the studies covered.

Click on the link to the right to buy the book from Amazon, and you’ll be doing your bit to support this site!

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Monday, October 12th, 2009 Economy 1 Comment

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