How Much is Enough?

Modern Modesty

How Much is Enough?

One late night I began thinking, what is the largest number in the world? Then I thought, well, what was the largest number in the world plus one? I went on like this for some time before I thought this was too much; I don’t need all these numbers. So I set off on a quest to find what is the largest number that is enough.

Figure 1. Googolplex

I started by asking my brilliant and lovely assistant in this endeavor, Kirsten, my wife. Kirsten has a degree in Physics/Astronomy and a minor in math. She is more than qualified to answer my most profound questions concerning this elusive number that I had been seeking earnestly for several minutes. She suggested that there is no such thing as a biggest number because of the infini te nature of such things. I explained to her that I was not looking for an end of the road, but more of a Number That Isn’t Quite Too Much. I asked Kirsten, since she is more used to dealing with astronomically large numbers, what number was enough for her. She said a googolplex, or 10^10^100. This number is, needless to say, too much for me. It is a number so big that it cannot be written down in its entirety.

Figure 2. Ten

Finding Kirsten’s number too large, I decided to ask my children. I first asked my son Alexander (4) what was the largest number for him. He responded by holding up both hands and saying, “ten.” I asked him, why was ten enough? He answered that it means “a lot.” This spoke volumes to me. I needed to find a number you can wrap your head around while still being “a lot.” Impressed at the wisdom of my little boy, I had high hopes for my daughter Katherine (2). I posed the same question, “What number is big enough for you, Katie?” “Tiger,” was her response. When I inquired what the meaning of tiger was mathematically, she responded that she likes bubbles and that she loves me. A sweet answer, but not really what I was looking for.

Figure 3. A Tiger

I decided to consult one last family member on what number was large enough. I asked my brother Brad. He responded almost immediately, as if he had been thinking of this as well, the number seven. A bold choice. He then went on a tirade for several minutes on why the number seven was enough. He felt that higher numbers were “too indulgent.” When I inquired why seven was large enough, he said, “Well, three is good, right, but it’s not quite enough, and when you get to seven you’re there. You think of eight, nine, and ten, and you think that’s too much, what am I, Rockefeller? I don’t need all that.” He had the right idea, but he was thinking too small, so after plumbing the cursory depths of my brother’s wisdom I moved on to the Internet.

A quick search on one of the more popular search engines came up with several hits for the world’s largest soda geysers and the world’s largest breasts, and no Internet search would be complete without an offer to make my penis larger. I was able to find a website that had all the knowledge I needed, Not only was it one of the most polite websites I have ever been to, but it also had information about the world’s largest prime number to date. It was discovered by Hans-Michael Elvenich on 6 September, 2008. The number is 243,112,609– 1. This number is quite staggering, and while it is the largest known prime number, it is far too big.

Having failed to find what I was looking for on the Internet, I decided it was time for some good old-fashioned research. I prepared two hundred cards with seemingly arbitrary numbers on them, and I showed them methodically, in the same order, to one hundred people. I asked each person what they thought of the number in question and whether they thought it was enough. Not a single person finished looking at all two hundred cards, but it was nearly unanimous that card eighty-two, or 1012 or one trillion, was chosen as enough. I agree with this. It is large, without being astronomical. It is enough. And to put it in perspective, it is at this writing nearly one tenth of America’s national debt.

Modern Modesty:

A Satirical Solution to Overpopulation

America is full, and it is threatening to burst at its very seams. Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the US National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), estimates the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 200 million. According to this theory, in order to achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, the United States would have to reduce its population by at least one-third. (Pfeiffer, Dale Allen; Eating Fossil Fuels. If we are to survive, drastic action must be undertaken. We must utilize what has been called our most precious resource: we must start eating children. This may seem barbaric to some, but I am not suggesting we eat all children, just all odd-numbered children born (the Odd Number Rule). This will give us the ability to continue our wonderful nation perpetually without destroying the family unit, reduce our negative impact on the environment, and create a surplus for our benefit.

Currently, total social welfare expenditure constitutes roughly 35% of the Gross Domestic Product (Alber, J. (1988). “Is There a Crisis of the Welfare State? Cross-National Evidence from Europe, North America, and Japan.” European Sociological Review, 4(3), 181-207). This is an atrocious waste of resources that could be used to bail out failing financial institutions or fund research into global warming. We could easily cut this number in half by instituting my proposed “Odd Number Rule.” We would also be able to feed the needy with this most precious resource. This is not a new idea, just a new application. As far back as 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote the following in A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick: “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee...” Everyone can agree that such a versatile provision would be of great benefit to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Taking care of the poor aside, we need to consider our impact on the environment. According to The Encyclopedia of Earth, the average North American generates about 20 tons of CO2-eq each year. The global average carbon footprint is about 4 tons of CO2-eq per year. Merely by reducing the population we can reduce these dangerous emissions without even changing our lifestyles. “Overpopulation is the only problem,” said Dr. Charles A. Hall, a systems ecologist. “If we had 100 million people on Earth — or better, 10 million — no others would be a problem.” (Current estimates put the planet’s population at more than six billion.) Dr. Allan P. Drew, a forest ecologist, put it this way: “Overpopulation means that we are putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than we should, just because more people are doing it, and this is related to over-consumption by people in general, especially in the ‘developed’ world.” We can reduce our criminally sweeping carbon footprint and turn our most renewable resource into a dependable food source.

We have now saved the ailing environment, but what good is it if we are jobless and poor? With the reduction in population, jobs will be more plentiful, land will be cheaper, and wages will increase. The aftermath of the Black Plague clearly shows that a reduction in population raises living standards and per capita wealth.

In Western Europe, the sudden scarcity of cheap labor provided an incentive for landlords to compete for peasants with wages and freedoms, an innovation that, some argue, represents the roots of capitalism. The resulting social upheaval caused the Renaissance and even Reformation. In many ways the Black Death improved the situation of surviving peasants. In Western Europe, because of the shortage of labor, they were in more demand and had more power. Because of the reduced population, there was more fertile land available. ... The death of so many people concentrated wealth in the hands of survivors. In many cases, those workers who remained alive could earn up to five times what they had earned before the plague. ... The drop in population was accompanied by a corresponding rise in per capita wealth. (Zapotoczny, Walter S. The Political and Social Consequences of the Black Death, 1348 – 1351; 2006)

Just as happened after the Black Plague, the implementation of the “Odd Number Rule” would produce a surplus of jobs and land and increase average wages to facilitate our libertine pursuits. Despite the obvious benefits of the “Odd Number Rule,” many will be resistant at first, but this is not uncommon with all revolutionary ideas. This is solved by introducing a comprehensive public school curriculum and lunch program touting the dangers of overpopulation and the acceptability of eating children. This, combined with movies, TV programs, magazines, books, viral marketing, and celebrity endorsement, could make the “Odd Number Rule” become a celebrated part of American culture in a single generation. The Voro Parvulus Program would be another subdivision of Child Services. Clearly, overpopulation and its detrimental effects can be mitigated by the federally-mandated eating of children.