Why maths matter, especially to liberal arts students

Yesterday morning I was listening to WNYC/NPR during my commute. The reporter was explaining De Beers’ claim of supply shortage of diamonds and there will be a price increase of 5% a year for the next 5 years. In closing of the story, the reporter said something about the effect of price hike of 25%, thus implying that 5% annual increase over 5 years equals to 25% increase in total!

Wrong!

Let’s take a look at the concept of compound interest. First let’s say we start with the price of a mythical diamond at $100. At the end of first year, we increase price by 5%. That is $100 + ($100 x 5%) = $105.

So at the beginning of second year, the price of the mythical diamond is now at $105. At the end second year, we increase price by 5% again. This time $105 + ($105 x 5%) = $110.25.

Repeat this for the next three years:

Year 3: $110.25 + ($110.25 x 5%) = $115.76

Year 4: $115.76 + ($115.76 x 5%) = $121.55

Year 5: $121.55 + ($121.55 x 5%) = $127.63

So at the beginning of fifth year, the last price increase puts the final price of our mythical diamond at $127.63.

But what about the 25% increase in 5 years? Ok, let’s see.

$100 + ($100 x 25%) = $125

Huh! That’s clearly not the same as $127.63!

So my message to liberal arts graduates who may (or may not) become a reporter who would work on story involves numbers: brush up your maths skill!

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2 comments

  1. Geoff

    Great explanation of compound interest.

    I’m sure 27.6% increase on the price of a diamond is going to be quite a chunk more than a 25% increase. PR wise the reporter did De Beers a favour.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why maths matter, especially to liberal arts students « Lost in Colonisation -- Topsy.com

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