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Numbers You Can Use


The numerical re-framing of our lives has yielded vast increases in knowledge and improved living conditions, but it is a mixed bag of results.

Random Numbers

Aye, that’s the rub; we are inundated, drowning in numbers, both personally and professionally. And digitization, computers, and the Internet have exponentially complicated the problem. A friend, who is a researcher at a prominent medical school, tells me that he has so much research data that it will take the rest of his career to sort it all out. And the business thinkers tell us that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Let’s be clear, the numerical reframing of our lives has also yielded vast increases in knowledge and improved living conditions, so it is a mixed bag of results. In that spirit, I have collected some recent numerated findings that may be profitable, or just plain interesting.

For instance, a study from the University of Michigan has found that a 1% increase in charitable giving is self-reported to increase by .1% an individual’s “health index.” So giving more does more good and feels good to boot.

Wikipedia tells us that there are now 170(!) identified cognitive biases that we struggle with. One example to be chary of is the Scarcity Bias: “Only 3 left in stock—buy now!” Another is the Limited Time Bias: “Exclusive limited offer, this weekend only!” You can bet that savvy marketers know all 170 and we rarely think about any of them. Until we have buyers’ remorse; “Why did I just buy that?”

The next time you push your broker to get in on an IPO, keep in mind that CNN tells us that 71% of new offerings last year were unprofitable. That reminds us that 80% were unprofitable when the dot-com bubble burst in 1999. And there are now more than 80 tech start-ups that the market has valued at $1 billion or more. Keep your powder dry, folks.

The average retirement lasts 6,470 days, and counting. What are you going to do with that time and how will you pay for it?

FYI: Last year 97 new skyscrapers were completed, a record. Fifty-eight of them were in China. At home, the Empire State Building takes in more money from tourists going to the observation deck than it does from tenants’ rents. Interesting, if not directly useful.

Reason #umpteen why you should not do your own taxes: Since 2001, the tax code has undergone 4,680 changes. At least CPAs do not have to worry about job security.

For you Market Timers who think the road to success is by out-guessing the market, here are a couple of nuggets to fan your flames: 1) In 90% of the last 40 years, if the market has risen in January, it will end the year higher (but is 2015 part of the other 10%?); 2) Also about January, in 49 of the last 64 years a positive December (the “Santa Claus Rally”) preceded a positive January two-thirds of the time; and 3) it is only true 34% of the time that the market sagged over the summer, over the last 64 years.

The AON Hewitt consultancy has found that the average employer health care premium this year will rise to $11,304 per employee. And those employees will average $2,487 out of pocket, 6% and 8% increases, respectively.

And Business Insider tells us that, on average, a woman’s earnings decrease 4% for every child that she has, while a man’s pay increases more than 6% when he becomes a father.

Lastly, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the 400 highest-earning US taxpayers had an average tax rate of 18%, probably similar to yours and mine. BUT, their average income was $265 million(!), 57% being from capital gains. So the similarity was a brief, and painful, one. See, numbers can teach us, help us and make us depressed as well.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice