Monday, December 17, 2007

Math Problems

The question that I sometimes ponder is how our deteriorating national rank in math and science will manifest itself in everyday life. What effect will this have on the economy here in the U.S. and in the rest of the world?

Watching the interviews of the many people caught up in the sub-prime mortgage mess may just be that first indicator. These people are stunned to find out what is included in their mortgage. They had no idea that their interest rate would go up so much and what that would mean to their monthly payment. They believed the greedy mortgage lenders and real estate agents because they didn’t know any better and couldn’t figure it out on their own.

Many of these complex mortgages didn’t exist just a few years ago. This is a very interesting case where stagnating in math expertise hurts our overall economy. Twenty years ago, there were only two types of mortgages – standard and adjustable rate. You didn’t have to have advanced math skills to figure out what was going on and what was going to happen to your payments – it was nicely laid out for you. The mortgages available that are causing so much trouble were so complex with so many different options that it couldn’t be simply laid out for you.

The world today is so much more complex that your grasp of numbers and math concepts (in addition to having a grasp that a 1.5% interest rate on a mortgage is not real) has to be much higher than 20 years ago.

Now I understand that there is no hard evidence of a causal relationship between math knowledge and the mortgage mess – but this is a blog allowing me to infer that relationship based upon the anecdotal evidence of those who were put on the news for others to think about.

The skills necessary to succeed today - from home buying to retirement - are so much more involved than 20 years ago that stagnating math scores will continue to adversely affect our economy. The mortgage mess could be just the tip of the iceberg.

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