A Matter of Perspective

When I was young there was a television show hosted by Groucho Marx. It was called “You Bet Your Life,” and contestants could win up to $1200 by the time the show was cancelled, more if they got the jackpot right.   If they were able to “Say the secret woid” a funny looking duck came down with a $100 bill in its beak which they won immediately. Big money.

About the same time there was another show called “The $64,000 Question.”   That was a lot of money in 1955. You could buy a dozen Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Specials for that kind of money.

By 1999 we were watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and we spent more than what the goofy duck brought on a good dinner for two.

Everywhere we looked numbers kept getting bigger.

Even in 1955 the federal budget outlays were $444 billion. That’s $444,000,000,000.00.

In 2014 those outlays were $3.5 trillion. Got that? Got a good grasp on that figure, do you? Just how do you wrap your head around $3,500,000,000,000.00?

For most people, we may as well be talking about how big space is. (Correct answer: oodles and oodles!)

There are a couple of issues here. One is that the size of the numbers has outgrown our points of reference. If we say, oh, that amount of money will buy a dozen Cadillacs, we have a reference. If we say that we just spent $3.5 trillion to run the government for a year, we have none. The second issue is that we have become numbed by big numbers.   We’ve seen too many of them. Politicians throw them around like balloon animals at a kid’s birthday party and most people gave up on math when the alphabet got involved.

But some of the numbers that are thrown about are important. It’s hard to tell which ones are and which ones aren’t because they all look like a number with a lot of zeros attached which means they all look the same.

Back in July Bernie Sanders tweeted that one family, the Waltons of the Wal-Mart empire, had more wealth than the poorest 130 million people in America today. Politifact.com verified that. [1] OK. But just how many Cadillacs IS that? (Correct answer: oodles and oodles!)

Well, the population of New York City is 8.5 million people. The population of the ten largest cities in the United States is 22.7 million. Umm… not even close, are we. OK. In order to find enough room for the 130 million poorest Americans, you would have to empty the entire population of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

How about that for a reference?

Let’s look at it another way. Let’s say we line up those 130 million poor and gave them a bowl and a spoon and march them past Mr. Bumble ladling gruel into a new bowl every 15 seconds. Let’s say we start right now. We would feed the last person in line in 2079. That’s right, 64 years. The line would start on the east coast, extend to the west coast, and snake back and forth nearly six times.

please sir

Six people in this country are richer than that many people. And none of those six people is actually the richest person in this country.

Bernie Sanders has been talking about income inequality for years, but unless those of us who are listening (and trying to explain why all this is important to others) can put the numbers in perspective, they are just zeros, just balloon animals.

A hungry child is not a zero. She’s not a party favor to be batted about and then ignored. One hungry child is an important number. Millions of hungry children are very important numbers.

We throw out about $165 billion worth of food in this country every year [2] because corporate policy dictates that it be destroyed, not distributed. Otherwise, shareholders lose money. The net worth of the six Waltons is only $102 billion. We throw away food worth $63 billion more than the net worth of all those people lined up with their hypothetical bowls every year. Tell me again, why are these people poor?

While the Kim Davis’s of the world do “God’s work” denying citizen’s rights with Republican presidential candidates by their sides, who is standing up for America’s poor and middle class?

Bernie Sanders. And he has been for many years.

Bernie Sanders has said, “A land where millionaires and billionaires have never had it so good, while tens of millions struggle just to survive is not what Christianity is about.  It’s not what Judaism is about.  And it’s not what America is supposed to be about.”

“… From a moral perspective, from an economic perspective, and from a political perspective, we have got to do better.”

There is a political revolution coming. We are not just electing a president. We are electing a government. Together we can elect a government that can re-establish the middle class and feed the poor.

Educate yourself.

Educate your friends.

Enough is Enough.

Roger A. Shipley - The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

Roger Shipley, AKA The Willowbrook Curmudgeon, spent forty years teaching in the American educational system and emerged a grumpy old man. Ensconced in the Pacific Northwest, he writes, carves, and chides people for bad grammar. You can also find his grumblings at The Curmudgeon's Lair or follow his nonsense on Twitter or Face Book

4 thoughts on “A Matter of Perspective

  • September 11, 2015 at 2:01 am

    According to my googled CPI Inflation calculator,
    $444 Billion (The Federal Budget in 1955) is equal to $3,917,937,000,000 today
    and $3,886,710,000,000 in 2014 ….
    This means adjusted for inflation, our current budget of 3.43 Trillion is less than the general budgets in the mid 1950’s … Yet American’s actually prospered then. We did well. Very well.
    Unprecedentedly well. It was our greatest expansion of the middle class in our history. We built schools and the interstate hiway system, public waterworks and supported municipal expansion. We expanded Social Security and unemployment benefits, raised the minimum on a regular schedule to account for inflation and increased productivity. We looked after the poor even. We were the envy of the world. We were. Just ask any old person you know. They’ll tell you. They remember when government worked for them, not against them. They remember when we were great. Way back when.
    But not now, we’re not even close to what we were in the mid 50’s.
    Go figure. Any guess what’s changed?
    Bernie knows, and he’s gonna set the record straight. Balance the books back in our favor.
    Give em Hell, Bernie.
    It’s time THEY got a dose of their own medicine.

  • September 11, 2015 at 2:03 am

    *Americans, not American’s … Sorry bout that my grammar Nazi friends 🙂

  • September 11, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Wow! I love seeing things broken down like this.
    You`re absolutely right that it`s difficult for people to get their heads around numbers like this. I posted a comment on an article about the 6 banks that were fined $5.8 billion, with a breakdown of how much it would affect the banks who are collectively worth $10 trillion, and a perspective comparison of an individual with $100 paying out $5.80. I got some great replies to that one!

  • September 12, 2015 at 7:15 am

    To your point, furthermore, U. S. citizens is the correct reference.

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