Mark Neumann's "truthful" math: Facts are pesky, pesky things | WisCommunity

Mark Neumann's "truthful" math: Facts are pesky, pesky things

[img_assist|nid=76352|title=Neumann|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=0|height=0]The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Politifact (I like to call it Politifactoid) feature today examined a statement by former GOP congressman and current US Senate candidate Mark Neumann and judged it "truthful." His statement:

Did you know that if the federal government spent $30,000 on behalf of every family of four or group of four in America, that the federal budget would be balanced today? They’re spending $46,000 on behalf of every family of four in America today, every year."

Which is the logical equivalent of saying this: If you trimmed the human population of Earth back down from the current seven billion to two billion, you'd balance the eco-system and save the planet. That may be true, just as Neumann's comment about the federal budget deficit may be true, but the devil, as usual, is in the details.

The way Neumann parses federal spending, you'd have to believe that each and every American family gets the benefit of $46,000 of federal spending every year. Of course, the truth is that a handful of powerful institutional interests (defense contractors, oil companies, corporate agriculture and multimillionaires, as well as red states that work hard to attract federal pork and military bases) get more money and everyone else gets less.

I mean, do you really think the government is spending billions on YOUR behalf when, for example, it subsidizes tobacco farmers or fabulously profitable oil companies, or when a single Alaskan congressman can earmark nearly a billion dollars to build a bridge to almost literally nowhere?

And do you really think that if the government slashed spending by about a third, that the cut in programs benefitting your family would be exactly one third? Or would it be far worse for you, compared to those fat cats sucking on the government teat and guaranteeing further delivery with billions mllions of dollars in campaign spending?

Besides: While cutting the budget down to a break-even level in just a few years might -- if you just went by a pocket calculator -- cause the deficits to disappear, but it would also do substantial harm to the economy, creating more economic distress, lowering consumer demand and thus lowering revenues. We'd spiral in. Most federal revenues, after all, depend on a healthy economy and a balance between inputs and outputs. Ask most economists and fiscal analysts about that little trick bag and Neumann's blithe prescription becomes a weapon of mass economic destruction.

And, of course, not a word out of Neumann's mouth about cutting wasteful and unnecessary tax subsidies to corporations and letting tax cuts for the uber-wealthy expire, which would do a lot to bring current spending into line. More than a trillion dollars, in fact, over the rest of the decade. That's math, however, that Neumann simply doesn't believe in, much less share with the public.

So it's a public disservice that the Politifact column focuses on Neumann's simplistic arithmetic, because that's what he's hoping will happen. And Politifact follows along gleefully, all but ignoring what the Neumann prescription would actually mean in the real world, in purely economic and math terms, not political terms. Nevertheless, Politifact takes pain to note that it doesn't rule on opinions, only facts (oh, really?). The column does say, very deep into its analysis:

To be sure, Neumann is not talking about actually sending money to any families, and he’s not suggesting that all families receive the same benefits. What he means is that the federal government exists to serve the public, so every expense – from the White House light bill to the cost of a grenade launcher – is "spent" on the public. By taking the total amount of money the government spends, dividing the U.S. population by four and spreading the money evenly over that theoretical family, Neumann arrives at the $46,000 amount.

But averaging federal spending in the way Neumann does to make his point is simplistic in the extreme and willfully misleading. While factually accurate, is realistically meaningless. It's like taking annual Gross Domestic Product in dollars, dividing that by the population of the US and concluding that everyone including every little kid and senior citizen, is (on average) upper middle class. It just makes no sense in the real world, even if the numbers add up. We're a wealthy country, overall, but also a hugely impoverished one, because a very few people have most of the wealth.

Expect more of this kind of mathematical and political nonsense as the 2012 campaigns heat up. Ignore the real world, just pay attention to the huckster sleight of hand game and try to imagine how wonderful everything would be if they were actually conveying a meaningful, and not just distracting and unimportant, truth.


September 28, 2011 - 12:46pm