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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press WAPO Tosses The Big Budget Numbers at Readers

WAPO Tosses The Big Budget Numbers at Readers

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Friday, 12 July 2013 04:59

How concerned are you that the House farm bill would spend $195 billion on farm subsidies over the next decade? How about the baseline of $740 billion for spending on food stamps. Would you be more or less concerned if the numbers were $19.5 billion and $74 billion? Would you have any idea what these numbers mean?

The government is projected to spend $47.2 trillion over the next decade. This makes the farm subsidies equal to 0.4 percent of projected spending. The $740 billion figure for food stamps would be less than 1.6 percent of projected spending. The Post article on the bill would have provided much more information to readers if it had expressed the spending figures as a share of the budget rather than as dollar amounts that have almost no meaning to anyone. 

Comments (3)Add Comment
How Many Octillion Grains of Sand Exist at the Margin Anyway?
written by Last Mover, July 12, 2013 7:19

Enough to disappear America's infrastructure into quicksand pits? Enough to create blinding windstorms in the dustbowl of the deep recession?

Wake up America. Stop fixating on the total. Economics is about the margin, the change in the total due to a change in octillions of sand grains.
...
written by Widgetmaker, July 12, 2013 12:42
Thanks, Dr Baker, for taking the time to point this out. I'm in total agreement. I get frustrated when I see people throw out such figures without any context - what is the point? Yet this is what is done all the time and no one, except you, says anything about it. It is good to know that there are a few people who get it.
Why do economists support the government budget ruse as more meaningful?
written by Perplexed, July 12, 2013 3:14
-"The government is projected to spend $47.2 trillion over the next decade. This makes the farm subsidies equal to 0.4 percent of projected spending. The $740 billion figure for food stamps would be less than 1.6 percent of projected spending."

Don't economists have the math skills to know the amount the government spends through tax expenditures? How about monopoly profit expenditures? Can they not develop reasonable estimates of other rents and add them up? When economists support the ruse and concealment of these "expenditures" why would they expect people to buy into these budget numbers (and percentages of them)as meaningful? Maybe "We the People" need specialists with better math skills to properly inform us of where the money actually goes in our economy. Why do we put up with this obfuscation of the real information needed to make governing decisions with?


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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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