Friday, October 30, 2009

Magic Math

I am so sick of magic math. "What's magic math?" you ask. The administration's account of "jobs created or saved", officially released today is a prime example of magic math.
Government officials claim that the $787 Billion stimulus package released earlier this year has saved or created approximately 640,000 jobs across the country, with the vast majority of those jobs being in construction and education. This claim is based on reports filed by recipients of the $160 Billion or so that has actually been spent so far. Though the administration only gets angry if you mention it, though, these numbers are highly contested by analytical experts.
It has been well-documented that there were numerous errors in initial reporting, but the administration claims that they caught and corrected for all of them. If you believe that, I have a bridge I'm looking to sell. We're talking about the same people who have admitted that our healthcare system wastes about $800 Billion a year, with nearly half of that waste being directly attributed to Medicaid and Medicare. If this is the way those people count, you try believing that they caught every error in reports from more than 100,000 recipients. I'm not buying it.
The reality is, this kind of counting can never use anything but magic numbers. Sure, you can count jobs that were created by the stimulus, assuming you're not looking in areas where the creation of new jobs was already being considered, but how do you verify jobs saved by the stimulus? How many of those recipients actually reported, "I was going to fire this many people but, thanks to the stimulus package, I didn't"? It's guessing, plain and simple. Some of it is scientific guessing, guesswork that actually has some verifiable relationship to reality, but much of it is just wishful thinking. History states clearly that there is no rational reason to assume that politicians didn't wish up some higher numbers than reality supports in order to make themselves look and feel better. Remember, the same people who claim confidence in these numbers were the people who claimed confidence in the fact that their stimulus package would prevent the unemployment rate from hitting double digits. How's that confidence working out for you?
If these fictional numbers were all there was to the story, it would be disgraceful, but it would be the same disgraceful story we see every time some politician starts spouting numbers. That isn't all, though. Fairy dust didn't make their number big enough, so they blew on it and made it even bigger.
White House officials are actually claiming that they get to count 1 million jobs, when you add in things that can't actually be measured. Things like the unmeasurable guy who didn't lose his job went to eat at Burger King and that unmeasurably saved the job of some kid serving fries. I'm not kidding. They actually used a stimulus-saved worker spending money at a restaurant as an example of how they came up with that 1 million magic number. They took numbers that can't be verified and added them to numbers that can't be verified and threw out a bigger number that can't be verified that they get to pat themselves on the back for. Magic math.
It's enough to make your head spin, but it's business as usual for the clowns we have in Washington. When they got called out a few weeks ago for pork and bloat-spending in a defense bill - wasting money that's supposed to help our soldiers and using it to make them look good in the home district instead - a spokesman for Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, had the gall to say, "Anyone who suggests this clearly doesn't understand the appropriations process." Mind you, the pork is there and documented, so the only English translation for this statement is, "We do this all the time. Nothing unusual here."
I wish I could say vote them all out and install some people who know how to count, but the odds don't look good for that either. Take a look at this comment I found on the New York Times website the other day, introducing some organizations brainstorm for how to solve the economic crisis:

"First and foremost it calls for the Fed to print a lot more money and pay off the federal debt. It then calls for taking the $400 billion saved on interest payments and using that money to give everyone on Social Security a 20% raise and lowering the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to age 60. This would create an army of young retirees looking to volunteer at the charity of their choice. At the same time it would open up jobs for younger workers."

Print all the money you want to pay off the debt and triple (at least) the number of people collecting Social Security benefits instantly. Do I really need to explain the real world consequences to such an idea? How are you going to pay all those benefits when the value of our dollar crashes to the point where it's only worth will be as an historical exhibit?
Wasn't there a time when we taught math as part of our basic educational system? I seem to recall such a time, though I am beginning to think it was just a hallucination. Lying about your numbers doesn't make you right. It just lets you steal more before the average person catches on. Keep that in mind the next time you see a highly-educated politician spouting figures that are obviously fabricated.

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