Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Meaningless sums of money

For some reason, I found myself wondering this morning why people got so angry about MPs expenses. I mean, I understand the indignation that people feel, but getting worked up about 55p bath plugs or £600 spent on a duck house is rather silly when you consider the vast sums of our money that the government wastes on their pet victim groups, various quangos and schemes.

In the end, the only conclusion I could reach was that it was conceptual. We can all relate to £600 here and there as they are sums we are all familiar with. We can even grasp the concept of a few hundred thousand or couple of million, but very few people can get their heads around the £130,000,000,000 we spend on quangos each year.

That's the problem. The sums of money which the government handle (and waste) have become so large that they've become utterly meaningless to us. We can understand a few hundred here and there or even several hundred thousand because we can relate to it - but once you get beyond a certain point there is no meaning to the money.

Furthermore, the figures become so oft repeated that you become desensitized to them. Even I can remember when a billion pounds was a rarely used figure that raised eyebrows. Today we barely even register a flicker at the mention of hundreds or thousands of billions.

I think it's time we had a redenomination of our money so that £10 becomes £1. It wouldn't completely solve the problem - £13,000,000,000 is still a bloody big sum of money - but at least we could bring back the pound note and have a decent night out for under a tenner!


Mark Wadsworth said...


That's why it's better to say that "One fifth of tax revenues are spent on quangos" or "The EU costs each household £4,000 a year" or "VAT costs each household three times as much as Council Tax" and so on.

William Gruff said...

How unlike you, Stan, to miss the points you make.

The vast sums squandered on Quangos were squandered by people who were absolutely confident that they could 'get away with it' forever and claiming for a bath plug is nothing less than the proof of that. The issue is not as trivial as you suggest.

A billion in our boyhood was a million times a million and the sums you allude to would be so much less were we to 'redenominate' and return to that definition, making your proposed 'redenomination' wholly unnecessary.

Stan said...

My point, though WG is that it is absurd that we get so upset about the cost of a bath plug, but just shrug shoulders at the huge sums being wasted every day. It's not entirely about the figures involved - people got very angry about the banks bailout, so why don't they get upset about £130 billion being spent year after year after year on quangos?

My wish to see a redomination is more about bringing a sense of value to our buying habits as much as anything else. People think nothing of spending £20 if they have a £100 - they've still got £80 left over; a tidy sum, no? But if they were spending £2 out of £10 that's suddenly a different matter. The larger sums you deal with the less sense of value you have - and in a debt ridden society that is dangerous.