The relative and the absolute

People employed to make things look good - I think this defines both politicians and economists rather well - will often quote relative numbers to show improvements rather than quote the absolute number. For instance they may say the the economy is becoming less dependent on oil. What they mean is that the fraction of the economy which requires oil has become relatively smaller. What they do not mention is that the world economy has grown making the absolute dependence on oil greater. They may also say that there are less starving people in the world today. What they mean is that the fraction of the starving people relative to the total number of people has gone down. What they do not mention is that the total number of people has gone up, so that the absolute number of starving people is now greater than before.

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