The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

JUST DO THE MATH

I remember that as an elementary school student I always felt a little odd. Most of my classmates hated our math classes. I, on the other hand, looked forward to them. To me, math was the perfect class. There was always a “right” answer to the questions – and that gave me a sense of security – knowing that I could be correct if I merely solved the problem. I loved math – and that love has served me well over many years.

When I began math classes (more correctly I should call them arithmetic) I remember my parents made me write the numbers 1 – 9 across the top and down the side of my piece of paper. Then I had to draw lines on my paper so that I had created a grid. And then I had to fill in the values in the grid using multiplication. 1 x 1 = 1; 7 x 6 = 42, etc. I learned all these values by heart – and because of that basic introduction to multiplication, I can still compute without benefit of a calculator – and a lot faster than people who have to resort to the use of one.

The importance of being able to do math was recently re-inforced at a recent visit to the local grocery store.

I was shopping for some chicken broth and had decided to try the type that comes in a carton in order to compare it to the canned variety. As I went down the soup aisle, I found that a woman and her daughter were standing in front of the item I was looking to purchase.

While they debated over which brand of boxed chicken stock they would purchase, I noticed that the brand they were considering was priced at $3.39 for the 32 oz. version and $1.98 for the 16 oz. version of the same product – making the 32 oz. variety the more economical. Except that the store had a sale on the smaller version with $.50 off its cost making it only $1.48 or $2.96 for two – the same quantity as its bigger brother.

I needed to purchase 32 ounces for the recipe I was making so I had decided that when this woman had nade her selection, I would buy two of the smaller sized stock and save $.43 on my purchase rather than buying the larger version – which under normal circumstances would have been more economical.

The lady (who apparently also needed 32 ounces for her recipe) reached for the larger box – apparently unaware of the sale that was going on. So – in my friendly way, I said, “Excuse me – I don’t know if you noticed but the smaller size is on sale and it would actually be less expensive if you bought two of the small size rather than buying the large size).

Her response was, “I always buy the large size. I need that much for the recipe.”

I went on to explain that two of the small size was the same as the large size and that she could save $.43 by buying the same quantity – just in two separate contiainers.

She looked at me as though I were insane, put her large size container in her shopping cart and she and her daughter moved on.

I just shook my head. I figured that she missed a lot of math classes – or was simply unclear on the concept. So I concluded my purchase and left the store.

This should probably not surprise any of us.

If you believe the reports that those people who are “underwater” on their mortgages and have stopped making payments on them simply didn’t understand what they were signing or the implications of adjustable rates – why should we be surprised that people don’t care enough – or understand enough – to maximize the dollars that they spend at the grocery store? 

Right now there is much talk about how the banks are “dragging their heels” on re-financing mortgages. Congress has put forward several proposals to accelerate this process. None of these seems to be effective in solving our housing valuation crisis. Is there any surprise in all of this?

I can only surmise that with math skills at all time lows, not only have the borrowers missed a lot of basic math classes – but our legislators have as well.

In this context – “JUST DO THE MATH” takes on a whole new relevancy.

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