Link of the Week: Measuring Worth

I now unveil one of my all-time favorite sites. It’s something I only use occasionally in my current deadline news job. But I used to use it all the time when I made historical documentaries. And you could get lost for hours just playing with numbers on the site.

So with that buildup, what is it?

Measuring Worth is the latest incarnation of an online calculator run by two University of Illinois economics professors. The site lets you put in a currency amount from any year back to 1774, and convert that to the value in any other year. Most commonly, you’d use it to figure out, for example, what $30 in 1910 is worth today. The answer, of course, isn’t as simple as $710. That’s just the figure calculated using the Consumer Price Index. But the authors’ basic calculator gives you five other measures (GDP deflator, comparative payment for unskilled labor, etc.) which generate a figure as high as $13,200 (for relative share of GDP). It can also handle various foreign currencies and various other ways of calculating relative value.

So, unfortunately, while Measuring Worth a great tool, there’s a learning curve (handy essays included) to figuring out what all the numbers mean and which is appropriate for your purpose. But if you need to calculate the historical Value of a Dollar (the site’s original name), this is the tool for the job.

How much is that in real money?

One more thing about converting foreign currencies to local in news stories: Sometimes you can just convert the foreign amount and treat it as if it were local money.

Soon Yen pays about a dollar-sixty to ride the bus into town every day.

In other situations, where you’re talking about large cash amounts that would obviously have been transacted in the foreign currency, it’s wise to subtly signal that you’ve converted.

Britain’s Royal Air Force has settled an anti-gay discrimination lawsuit, offering a payout to a former sergeant major worth more than 100-thousand dollars.

The use of the word “worth” indicates that the settlement was equivalent to $100,000, rather than $100,000 in crisp greenbacks. By the way, you can also use “equivalent to” with the same effect.

Link of the Week: Yahoo! Currency Converter

Whenever you report a specific amount of money, you should always convert it to the currency your audience uses. Because I cover international gay news, I’m constantly having to convert foreign currency amounts to U.S. dollars. There are many, many online tools for this, but my favorite is the Yahoo! Currency Converter.

By default, Yahoo’s tool converts Dollars to Japanese Yen, but this is not something I often need to do. But you can easily set the link you bookmark to your preferred default conversion. Just perform the desired default conversion and save that link. Now each time you click the link, it’ll be set just that way. I most often need to convert British Pounds to U.S. Dollars, so this is the link I use: Yahoo! Pounds to Dollars.

Note that this particular trick works for many database links — so long as the site uses GET method queries (which usually produce a long-ish link with lots of &-signs in it). IMDB and Wikipedia are two examples. Some sites use POST method queries (IBDB, for example), which don’t give you a usable link you can save.