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Fun With Really Big Numbers at the Washington Post

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Sunday, 16 March 2014 08:09

Some folks might think that the point of a newspaper is to provide information to readers. Those people have nothing to do with reporting at the Washington Post. That is why, in an article on unexpected state budget surpluses, the paper told readers that capital gains taxes from the initial public offerings of Facebook and Twitter generated $3 billion in unexpected revenue for California, that Florida's legislature is voting on a $400 million tax cut, and Idaho is projecting an $80 million surplus.

These are all very cute numbers which probably mean almost nothing to 99 percent of Washington Post readers. If the paper was actually trying to inform readers it might have told them that the money from Facebook and Twitter amounts to approximately 3 percent of the state's revenue for a year. It could have told readers that Florida's proposed tax cut comes to a bit more than $20 per person and that Idaho's projected surplus is equal to just under 3.0 percent of its budget.

While most Post readers understand percentages and can relate to to a per person dollar amount, it is unlikely that many are familiar with the size of these states budgets or economies offhand. They could take two minutes to look this information up on the web, but most readers will have less time for this task than the Washington Post's reporter. In fairness, the piece did point out that a proposal to use $4.6 billion to fund pre-kindergarten programs would take up about 3 percent of the state's overall budget. (The higher level of implied spending presumably includes money other than what appears in the general budget.)

Comments (1)Add Comment
I expected better from Bezos
written by Dave, March 16, 2014 10:21
Call me a fool, but I never demonized Bezos or believed he would allow a newspaper to function so out of touch with reality. I hoped he was going to be a reformer of the paper.

I understand he leans towards corporate libertarianism from an economic perspective, but I just thought he was smarter than this. I thought perhaps some of this brain hamsters were searching for new answers rather than running on the libertarian treadmill.

It just proves the isolation of thought that takes place among the very wealthy class. They really don't understand reality at all. Worse, they think they do. Do they really think they are the first pompous leaders in history to feel the way they do and to see things with such clarity? History teaches that every time a class becomes this isolated, this out of touch, they bring down nations.


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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

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