A Proposed Math Quiz for Presidential Candidates

8. If the government spends $1,000 per second, it will take approximately 17 minutes to spend $1 million. At this rate, about how long will it take to spend $1 billion? How long to spend $1 trillion? One comparison: The $87 billion supplementary budget for Iraq is approximately how many times the annual U.S. contribution to the U.N.? Answer

9. An ace pollster on your staff claims that 63.86 percent of 100 Americans surveyed support your foreign policy. What's your reaction to these numbers? Answer

10. If FAWUA, the federal agency with an unpronounceable acronym, deposits $1 billion in an escrow fund at 7 percent, how long until the deposit is worth $2 billion? $4 billion? Alternatively, if the agency borrows $1 billion at 7 percent and makes no payments on it, how long until it owes $2 billion? $4 billion? Answer

The bottom line: A president should be able to put 2 and 2 together, both numerically (the easy part) and otherwise.

The Answers

1. About 290 million. A bit more than 6 billion. A little less than 5 percent.

2. By itself that's not very impressive evidence. The time period after 12 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays constitutes 1/7 or 14.3 percent of the week so, as a first approximation, you'd expect roughly that percentage of strokes over any two days after 12 p.m.

3. Candidate X could receive as few as 11 votes and his opponent, candidate Y, tens of millions. Specifically, if California, New York, Texas, Florida, and the 7 other states with the most electoral votes each had a turnout of 1 voter who voted for X, and the other 39 states voted unanimously in the millions for Y, X would win.

4. Approximately 3,000, 40,000, and 700,000, respectively.

5. It's risen by 67 percent, but must be cut by only 40 percent to reach its former level.

6. By the definition of "median," half the households receive less than $150 in tax cuts, half more, so there are some very wealthy people in town. These people, like the new company founder, drag up the average tax cut much more than they do the median cut.

7. About $2 trillion, 20%, and a bit more than $11 trillion, respectively.

8. About 11.5 days for $1 billion, 32 years for $1 trillion, and roughly 250 times as much, respectively.

9. The question at issue is impossibly vague, the number surveyed is relatively small, and the precision of the figure is entirely bogus. Fire the pollster.

10. About 10 years and 20 years, respectively. It's important to know that the length of time it takes money to double at an annual interest rate of r percent is roughly 70/r. In this case 70/7 equals 10 years, and a second doubling requires another 10 years.

Professor of mathematics at Temple University and adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, John Allen Paulos is the author of several best-selling books, including Innumeracy, and A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market. His Who's Counting? column on ABCNEWS.com appears the first weekend of every month.

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