Saturday, February 07, 2009

When liars figure

Although the figures don't lie

Misleading numbers are everywhere. Is it innumeracy or mendacity that spawns them? Sometimes I think it's both. Remember the bogus argument that autoworkers were making $70 an hour? That grotesque exaggeration was spread by right-wingers who embraced its propaganda value. Some of them probably knew it was false but didn't care.

Does Bill Saracino care when he peddles bad numbers? Does he even know that he's doing so? He uses simple arithmetic to calculate his misleading results, so it's possible he has great confidence in their accuracy. It's difficult to say. It's not, however, difficult to discern their bogosity. Check this out, from the February 5, 2009, installment of the Sacramento Union:
The stimulus bill gives the Coast Guard $572 million for “acquisition, construction and improvements.” It is claimed that these funds will create 1,235 new jobs. Grab your abacus and do the math. The cost of “creating” each of these occupations comes to $460,000 per new job.
We see that Bill cared enough to put “acquisition, construction and improvements” in quotation marks but not enough to read the words. “Acquisition” suggests buying property or matériel; that doesn't go into the pockets of the workers. “Construction” says that things are going to be built. Labor is by no means the only cost of construction projects. The results will be new Coast Guard facilities with a useful lifetime of decades. “Improvements” are in this same vein.

But Bill isn't done:
The Department of Defense gets $200 million to install plug-in car stations for its plug-in cars, of which it has 53,526. We taxpayers get each plug-in station for the bargain price of $3,700 per car serviced.
He evidently has a key on his calculator that permits him to do division. Good for him! But once again he neglects the minor consideration that the plug-in stations will create jobs for construction workers and electricians, that the stations will used for decades, and that the DoD's need for such stations will undoubtedly grow in the future. It's a long-term investment with immediate job-creation aspects.

One more:
The bill proposes $600 million for the federal government to buy new cars. The feds already spend $3 billion a year on a fleet of 600,000 vehicles. America’s Big Three automakers got more than $25 billion in December’s $750 billion pork-fest. Do they really need $600 million more? Does the federal government really need $600 million worth of new cars?
If only Mr. Saracino understood some of the more arcane functions of his calculator, he would see that $600 million is 20% of $3 billion (assuming he gets the troublesome decimal place right; percentages are tough). I'll admit that $600 million is real money (as Everett Dirksen might have said), but 20% is not staggeringly large. (I'd like a 20% pay increase, please, but it won't make me a millionaire.)

Bill eventually has mercy on us: “I could go on—oh, how I could go on—but I think you get the ugly picture.” Yes, we get the ugly picture. You're an innumerate propagandist for the right wing. But just to show there's no hard feelings, here's a nice calculator trick that you'll enjoy.


Anonymous said...

I don't get it. What's the trick?? Is it that the calculator couldn't add 1 plus 1??

Sili said...

Youtube refuses to work for me at the moment (a Flash problem, presumably).

But that happens to be the calculator the community college(ish) I work at lend to the students (that don't need the graphing calcs).

William said...

But money for the Coast Guard is defense spending. Aren't these guys in favor of that?

Oh, that's right, I forgot -- they just like to chant "support the troops", not to actually do it.