Nice Job, "Number of the Week"!

Apr 28, 2011

Kudos goes to Mark Whitehouse for his April 9 “Number of the Week” piece in the online Wall Street Journal. The topic is an important one – how much we spend on healthcare – and he presents some very important numbers in a clear and concise way. Here’s the chart he included in his post (I’ve shrunk it, but see Mark’s original post for the life-size version):

Here’s what I like about it:
  • The numbers are properly scaled, easy to read, and easy to find.
  • The word descriptions are terse, accurate, and tell me everything I need to know about the numbers.
  • The graph shows Public spending first, with Private spending layered above that. I’d say that’s the right choice for visual comparisons, and for understanding how the different healthcare systems work. The gridlines every $2,000 help the reader get a sense of the scale of the numbers.
  • The OECD study he cited includes all 29 OECD countries. His selection of only ten countries gets the point across without inundating us with data (although adding a row for the “OECD Average” would be useful).

I give Mark extra credit for culling the information in the chart from the original OECD report. Although the OECD report is, like the “Number of the Week” piece, a reasoned, well-balanced document, it is dense with remarkably hard-to-understand tables and graphs. This makes generating a cogent summary especially challenging.

A civil, coherent discussion of an issue this important must start with an organized, unbiased presentation of the numbers. The questions that should be asked follow from that, and we’ll talk about that in another post.

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people talking about financial statements and other numbers in ways that we can all understand. I welcome your interest and your feedback.

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