Dysfunctional Math


Over the past quarter century, history suddenly exploded and threw us off our trajectory. Without warning, progress went vertical, locking us in an acceleration trap.

This is perhaps best noticed in the math. The numbers are increasingly incomprehensible, the curves increasingly exponential (the profusion curve is actually hyperexponential), and the math increasingly dysfunctional. (See examples in the list following.)

To be sure, the world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness. Because the entire globe is a tightly-coupled system, a shudder anywhere has the potential of becoming a seizure everywhere.

Enormous amounts of change are now routinely seen in compressed time frames. By my observations, these changes have come so suddenly that few have a clear understanding of the mathematical drama we now face.

Generally speaking, most people aren't terribly interested in math or analysis. But our generational shift is dealing with something different, and it's best we remain vigilant. Willful ignorance does not constitute a functional exemption from the possible consequences that await us.

Nearly all my books dedicate at least part of a chapter to the broader discussion of this phenomenon (especially the triad of books Margin, Balance, and Contentment). In addition, I am currently working on a book explaining the unique mathematical problems inherent in the profusion of progress.

Examples of Dysfunctional Math

  • More video is uploaded to YouTube in 60 days than all 3 major television networks created in 60 years.
  • Google scientists counted over 1 trillion URLs (resources, documents, domain names) on the Web.
  • The average American is exposed to 10 hours of media per day and watches 34 hours of television per week.
  • Go to college and you can choose from over 500 baccalaureate degrees.
  • The average grocery store has 40,000 different products.
  • A Walmart Superstore has 150,000 different products.
  • There are 55,000 configurations of coffee at Starbucks.
  • The Drudge Report had 11.5 billion visits in one year. (2013)
  • We each must learn to operate 20,000 pieces of equipment in our lifetime.
  • In the next century, we will have a million times more technology than we do now.
  • There are 400,000 books per year published in the U.S. and Great Britain.
  • Knowledge workers check e-mail 50 times a day, instant messaging 77 times a day, and visit 40 websites per day.
  • The average desk worker starts something new every 3 minutes.
  • The world’s fastest supercomputer, Cray’s Titan, has a processing power equal to every human using a calculator and performing 2.5 million calculations per second.
  • Artificial intelligence is increasing 10 million times faster than human intelligence.
  • Information is increasing at a compound annual 60%
  • There was more change in the last century than in all of recorded history prior to 1900.
  • There will be a thousand times more change in this century than the last.
  • Apple offers 800,000 apps in its Apps Store, and 50 billion apps have been downloaded.
  • The 2012 Fiat 500 subcompact offered one-half million combinations to choose from.
  • Some new car owners’ manuals are "more than 800 pages."
  • There are 90,000 governmental bodies in the U.S.
  • The US government pays over 80 million bills per month.
  • In 1800 there was just 1 city with a million people; now there are 381.
  • At the turn of the twentieth century, the top 25 most populated cities in the world were in Europe and North America. Today, none are found in Europe and only two in North America: LA and NYC.
  • The percentages of households in the U.S. that are married couple households: 1950–79%; 1960–74%; 1970–70%; 1980–61%; 1990–56%; 2000–52%; 2010–49.7%.
  • People around the world spent a combined time of 200,000 years playing the smartphone game Angry Birds from its release in 2009 until the end of 2011.
  • In 1995, no state had an obesity rate above 20%; now every state does. The state with the lowest adult obesity rate today would have had the highest rate in 1995.
  • Spread Networks built a 825-mile fiber optic network reducing the round-trip trading time between Chicago and New York markets by 3 milliseconds.
  • IPv6 will allow 10 to the 39th possible internet addresses, which is a thousand trillion more than there are stars in the universe. (All internet devices, such as computers and mobile phones, require an IP [Internet Protocol] address. The IPv4 system maxed out at 4 billion, but today we have 15 billion such devices--thus the transition to IPv6.)
  • A collection of every word ever written in any language would equal about 50 petabytes. In 2013, Europe’s CERN Large Hadron Collider announced their experiments had produced double that amount of information in just two years of operation.

Health Care

  • Health-care costs are $3.2 trillion annually.


  • Health care as a percentage of GDP: 1960–5.2%; 1970–7.2%; 1980–9.1%; 1990–12.3%; 2000– 13.8%; 2015–17.5%.
  • From 1970 to 2014, there was a 4,100% increase in healthcare costs
  • ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) is the new revision for medical outpatient diagnosis coding, expected to launch October, 2014. It increases the number of codes from 13,000 to 68,000, including 72 codes for a sprained ankle. Forty national physician groups warn that the costs and management burdens will put many small practices out of business.
  • Doctors graduating from medical school owe an average of $155,000, while a quarter of new medical-school grads owe over $200,000. It’s not uncommon to hear of medical student debt over $400,000.
  • "At a recent staff meeting we learned that the cost per minute for the OR was $88. If my math is correct, it amounts to $5,280 per hour." (Medscape, 2011, quoting Alabama MD)
  • 10,000 baby boomers will become eligible for Medicare every day for the next 19 years, causing the Medicare fiscal discrepancies to widen rapidly and unsustainably.
  • Over the next 10 years, aging boomers will result in a 50% rise in the number of people 65–74 years old, a growth rate not seen in 50 years.
  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up 43% of the federal budget.
  • Percentage of children in U.S. population, at 24%, is the lowest ever (in 1900–40%; 1980– 28%; 1990–26%) — just when we need them the most to fund Medicare and Social Security.
  • WebMD, with 22 million visitors per month, has a privacy statement link at the bottom of their home page, a 30-page explanation of how they will use your personal data.
  • "There are 35,000 publications a year in neuroscience, and no single researcher knows even 1% of that."
  • The Physicians’ Desk Reference has 2,500 pages; when first created in 1948, it had 300 pages.
  • MEDLINE, the U.S. National Library of Medicine's database, contains 19 million journal references from 5,600 journals.
  • If I read 2 health-care-related articles every day for a year, next year at this time I would be a thousand years behind in my reading.
  • The 1965 Medicare/Medicaid bill was 137 pages; 30 years later, there were over 130,000 pages of rules to comply with.
  • The 1993 Clinton Healthcare Reform Act had 1,432 pages, called by one Democratic Senator "overwhelmingly complex, almost frighteningly complex."
  • The current health-care reform act (Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act) is twice as large, at 2,800 pages and 400,000 words, the most complex and expensive legislative issue in U.S. history — and, if the multiplier holds, will result in millions of pages of regulations.


  • Total U.S. national debt: $20 trillion, $167,000 per taxpayer.
  • GDP: $18.9 trillion.
  • Gross debt to GDP: 106%.
  • The Federal debt is increasing $2 billion every day.
  • Total U.S. unfunded liability: $124 trillion (Social Security–$16.4 trillion; Prescription drug for Medicare–$21.7 trillion; Medicare–$86 trillion).
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' fortune dropped $2.8 Billion in an hour after mixed Amazon Earnings Report (2017)

  • Total student-loan debt: $1.4 trillion.
  • "American universities have raised their fees five times as fast as inflation over the past 30 years," said Derek Bok, former president of Harvard. "Universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty: there is never enough money to satisfy their desires."
  • The IRS has had 4,680 changes to the tax code since 2001, and it is four million words long. Three million man-years are spent complying with the tax code annually. 89% of those who file pay for help (not including software). $400 billion dollars is owed but not collected each year. (2013 IRS data)
  • The price of oil per barrel went from $25 up to $147 down to $33 up to $112 and down to $26 in the past 15 years.
  • In 2011, oil prices averaged $95/barrel and gasoline $3.52/gallon. A decade earlier, oil averaged $25/barrel and gasoline $1.44/gallon.
  • Gasoline, which was between $1.00 and $1.20 during the entire decade of the 1990s, went to $4.01, then $1.87, then $4.00 in a span of 3 years.
  • Since 1965, the GDP has increased 2.7 times, but entitlement expenses have increased 11.1 times. (2011)
  • China, our largest creditor, holds $1.16 trillion of U.S. Treasury securities officially, and, likely, as much as $2 trillion. Japan is second with $912 billion.
  • In 2030, when the last of the baby boomers retires, there will be 77 million people on Medicare, up from 47 million today.
  • In 1950, there were 16 workers "paying in" per beneficiary for Social Security; in 1960, 5 workers per beneficiary; in 2010, 2.9 workers per beneficiary, in 2025, 2.3 workers per beneficiary.
  • U.S. household debt as a percentage of annual disposable personal income was 127% at the end of 2007, versus 77% in 1990.
  • In 1981, U.S. private debt was 123% of GDP; by the third quarter of 2008, it was 290%.
  • The cost of raising a child to age 18 is now $235,000, 40% greater than a decade ago. (2011)
  • From when the housing bubble burst in 2006 until mid-2012, home prices fell 32.6% nationwide.
  • Value of all mortgaged property nationwide is $12.2 trillion; outstanding debt on those properties is $8.6 trillion. Thus 70.5% of the value of all mortgaged homes is in debt. (2012)
  • The total US national debt, including the unfunded mandates not appearing in the budget, is:
    • $86.8 trillion – Chris Cox and Bill Archer, former Congressmen (Wall St. Journal, 2012)
    • $222 trillion – Larry Kotlikoff, Boston University economist (PBS, 2012)
    • "nearly 100 trillion" - Bill Gross, CEO of PIMCO (CNBC, 2011)
    • $61.6 trillion – (USA Today, 2011)
    • $44 trillion – Mary Meeker, economist and securities analyst (Business Week, 2011)