Some Trivia

I have been rereading Parkinsons Law (and Other Studies in Administration) by C. Northcote Parkinson. It is a pretty good set of essays which deal with his observations of the civil service. One of his laws is the Law of Triviality. The general idea is that the more complex an idea being debated the less time is spent on debating that topic. However a lot of commentators miss an important point and that is this.

“People who understand high finance are of two kinds: Those who have vast fortunes of their own and those who have nothing at all.To the actual millionaire a million dollars is something real and comprehensible. To the applied mathematician and  the lecturer in economics (assuming both to be practically starving) a million dollars is at least as real as a thousand, they never having possessed either sum. But the world is full of people who fall between these two categories, knowing nothing of millions but well accustomed to think in thousands, and it is of these that finance committees are mostly comprised. The result is a phenomenon that has often been observed but never yet investigated. It might be termed the Law of Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.”

He then goes on to give three examples of a Nuclear Power Station costing $10 million, a bike shed costing $2,350 and Refreshments costing $57. The time spent on the Power Station is two and a half minutes, the bike shed is 45 minutes and refreshments for 1 hour and 15 mins and deferred until the next meeting. There are two aspects of this and that is the simplicity of the topic and the amount of money involved. I would like to put aside the simplicity of the topics and just concentrate on the money side.

How many people can visualize $1 million dollars let alone $10 million or $1 billion? Actually very few. Warren Buffet can handle it as can Bill Gates and a few others. When people go shopping for a house how much time is spent on being able to save large chunks of cash? Most people will haggle over the difference between kitchen bench-tops which may save $200 but lose sight of the total cost. How many people when grocery shopping will spend a lot of time trying to save cents on their shopping bill but the next day go shopping for a new car which they may be paying several thousands of dollars more than they should? This is real, the more the price of something is the less the purchaser will spend thinking about how to spend less.

There is an important principle here. How many stories have you read where a person or family who were dirt poor has won a lot of money on the lotteries and not only spent it all but gone bankrupt with many millions in debt. There was a story of such a man in Western Sydney many years ago. He won $10 million on Lotto. He handed out the usual cash to family and friends probably without thinking too much about it. He bought a property out Orange way to grow fruit. He made his next door neighbour the property manager. He also bought a few properties on the Gold Coast for rental purposes. Within 10 years he was bankrupt. He had lost the lot and about $1 million in debt plus he had the police on his doorstep. What happened? Well his next door neighbour who knew nothing about fruit growing decided that cannabis was more lucrative. Of course our lotto winner wasn’t checking up on his new found property manager. He had to liquidate his Gold Coast properties to pay for the farm that was losing money and there you have it -all gone. Why? In my opinion it was because he couldn’t adjust his thinking from trivial to large amounts.

Let us move on the more important people, our politicians. They have to deal with, vote for and allocate BILLIONS and TRILLIONS of dollars depending on the country you are in. Now from the examples above do you have any wonder why these politicians overspend your tax payer money. They CANNOT UNDERSTAND the amounts involved.

I will give you another example. How many people can visualize 1 light year. 1 light year is approx 5,865,696,000,000 miles. Which number is easier to work with? The reason scientists reduce numbers is because they are easier to work with and easier to understand. Large numbers are difficult to comprehend. In Parkinson’s example with the Nuclear Power Station, if Bill Gates was sitting on that finance committee he would have saved some serious cash – stuff the $350 for the bikeshed.

Politicians should not be making decisions about how to spend large amounts of money unless they know how to wisely spend large amounts of their own money without going broke.

What has all this to do with Christianity? OK did you know that Jesus tied in righteousness with being able to handle money?

Luk 19:12  He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.
Luk 19:13  Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’
Luk 19:14  But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
Luk 19:15  When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.
Luk 19:16  The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’
Luk 19:17  And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
Luk 19:18  And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’
Luk 19:19  And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
Luk 19:20  Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief;
Luk 19:21  for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
Luk 19:22  He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?
Luk 19:23  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
Luk 19:24  And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
Luk 19:25  And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’
Luk 19:26  ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Luk 19:27  But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.'”

Think big not petty.

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