Even in the unlikely case that you actually are bad at math, please don’t say it

math-housing-bubbleLet’s start with a multiple-choice question: Imagine that you’re at a party, and you’ve just struck up a conversation with a dynamic, successful businesswoman. Which of the following are you most likely to hear her say during the course of your conversation?

A. “I really don’t know how to read very well.”

B. “I can’t write a grammatically correct sentence.”

C. “I’m awful at dealing with people.”

D. “I’ve never been able to think logically.”

E. “I’m bad at math.”

We all know that the answer is E, because we’ve heard it so many times. Not just from businesswomen and businessmen, but from actors and athletes, construction workers and sales clerks, and sometimes even teachers and CEOs.

Somehow, we have come to live in a society in which many otherwise successful people not only have a problem with mathematics but are unafraid to admit it. In fact, it’s sometimes stated almost as a point of pride, with little hint of embarrassment.

It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that this creates major problems. Mathematics underlies nearly everything in modern society, from the daily financial decisions that all of us must make to the way in which we understand and approach global issues of the economy, politics, and science.

To take a simple example, consider the recent recession and financial crisis, which is still affecting the global economy today. The clear trigger for the recession was the popping of the real estate bubble, which ignited a mortgage crisis. But what created the bubble that popped?

(Next page: How simple math could have prevented our financial crisis)


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