September 9th, 2011

politics pelosi

A billion here and a billion there and soon we're talking real money

I find I can't really comprehend millions billions and trillions anymore whenever some jackhole in Washington proposes spending obscene amounts of money. It's all just 0's after a while and loses all connection with any sort of tangible meaning. I sometimes wonder if this sort of disconnect with reality is why most people don't really get worried about spending or debt or anything else financial that takes place on a governmental scale. We're more likely to get cheesed about a government official stealing $80,000 then discovering that 9 billion dollars in federal spending is currently unaccounted for in Iraq. The former has meaning to us. It's around the price of 3 new cars or a very modest house out in some flyover state. We can relate to it and we can measure its magnitude. Tell us that someone walked off with 9 billion and it's like something shortcircuits in our brain.

Now if I, someone who has probably had more education than 95% of the country and follows politics for entertainment feels this way, I can only imagine how the average person feels. That's why I found a way to roughly sketch just how massive some proposed piece of spending actually is. All I have to do is take the massive amount and divide by the number of US households and that gives me a useful number that puts things into perspective.

So, lets take Obama's recent call to spend 447 billion dollars on a new round of stimulus spending after the previous one tanked and didn't accomplish all that he wanted. Certainly that ridiculous graph showing that the previous round of stimulus spending would cap our unemployment rate at 8% turned out to be a farce. I don't know whatever happened to his council of economic advisers who published that piece of crap, but I hope they got pummeled about the head and shoulders by someone. I'm willing to take on faith it was simply an honest screwup rather than someone on the economic team massaging the model to try to put a brighter spin on things, but it's clear that someone was horribly wrong. Here's that graph btw, if you're interested.

So, perhaps this new influx of 447 billion dollars can fix what 787 billion couldn't. And how much is 447 billion? Well, the census estimates that there are around 150 million households in the US right now. If we divide 447 billion by 150 million we get a figure of around $3,000 per household. That puts it into a realm that any person can digest as to the scope of the thing. It's not a perfect measure as in reality the cost would differ greatly depending on how much a family pays in taxes. After all, if you pay nothing, then in effect you would be getting a good chunk of benefit at little to no cost. If you're part of the 55% of the population who actually pays income tax, then you're already shouldering more of the load for this though the amount will vary.

While I think it's a neat sort of way to put spending into perspective, I'm not certain it's knowledge that should be widely disseminated. If you give a monkey a gun and the monkey shoots someone, you can't blame the monkey. There are times when collective spending and sacrifice is needed for the greater good. Infrastructure projects are one example and education or fire/police another. You can argue about the amount of spending and the waste involved, but there are few people who really think we should spend nothing upon it. Giving people information so they can put this spending into context may just cause a mass financial NIMBY effect where no one would want to pay for anything.

Oh well. I still think it's sorta interesting.