Monday, August 16, 2010
1,000 or 500,0000?
This morning at breakfast in response to Nora noticing that Emma was eating from a chipped bowl, Lydia wondered aloud how many plates or glasses break every day. And this is what we discussed for the remainder of breakfast. Well, what's your population unit, Lydia? The United States. My wife immediately said, "probably around a thousand."
This received a glare from me.
A thousand? What are you, some sort of sorceress that you can conjure that number from the air?? Let's think this through for crying out loud. Surely it's more than a thousand.
A thousand! In barely controlled rage, I immediately countercharged that Atlanta alone surely breaks over a thousand glasses, bowls, plates and so on in a single day, especially if one considers all the restaurants in the city. (Upon further reflection I retracted this countercharge as coming perilously close to the ravings of a mad man.)
We had to determine whether we're just discussing glasses, or whether we're discussing all serving ware (though obviously not plastic or paper). Yes, we were being inclusive.
Here's how I went about reasoning through the question. I figured there are about three hundred million people in the U.S., and that roughly translates to about fifty million households. I think that's substantially too low, but good grief it's best to be conservative in dealing with such delicate matters. I then asked Juli how many bowls or glasses we break as a family in a year. She thought about one per month. I thought this seemed high, and I think it's certainly higher than the average non-coordination-challenged family, but we stuck to that number. I confess I did enter into a mini shame-spiral, wondering whether we're an especially klutzy family, but the demands of the moment called for me to pull myself together.
Okay, so twelve broken items per family unit per year. And let's say that our number is average, though I suspect it's high compared to your average household--the kind of household in which people basically master the movement of their own bodies and not constantly drop their plates. Still. So that's, what, six hundred million broken items per year. Divide that number by 365 days and you have over 1.64 million broken bowls, glasses, and so on per day.
A thousand broken items, Juli? Such profound off-the-markness begs the question, frankly, of how Juli is able to make out a grocery list. "Ok Mike, be sure to get a few tons of beans. You're making chili on Saturday."
I mean no disrespect, understand.
Still, 1.64 mil strikes me as far too high. That translates into one in every 182 persons breaking something every day? Is that possible? Are we really that uncoordinated as a race? Raccoons never break their glasses, it seems. Does our kitchenware industry even sell 1.64 million items per day? I mean, there aren't that many weddings.
So that made me think of another way of looking at it. I figured we should somehow secure from the glassware trade magazine the number of bowls and so on sold per day and then substantially discount that number. Surely the net number of bowls and so on is increasing due to population increase and general decadence, right? So it's not the case that every newly purchased item is replacing a broken item. But lots of discarded items surely break in the trash. We didn't decide whether this counts. I don't think it captures the spirit of Lydia's question. So what percentage of newly purchased bowls and glasses replace broken ones? I'd say....maybe ten percent. I think the rest are purchased when folks decide to change patterns or styles. But if it's only ten percent, then that means that millions upon millions of bowls and glasses are sold every day in the U.S. Can this be so? And if so, why haven't I invested earlier in this industry?
So from all this I scaled back the number from 1.64 million to 500,000.
Five hundred thousand is surely the correct number.
Your job: 1. Praise my reasoning; 2. Confirm my conclusion.