Thursday, September 24, 2009

Truthful Trillions by Ned Studholme

We all need to be vigilant, recognize intentional deception, and counter unsupported political assertions with reason and logic when the opportunity arises. I would like to confront the wide spread assertion that President Obama’s proposed programs, including health care, will heap debt on our children and grandchildren from which we will never recover.

Without even discussing these programs and the methods by which we might pay for them, critics use the cost side by itself to obfuscate the true nature of debt, and frankly, to scare people. For this they employ the “T-word”, a trillion dollars. One republican senator recently compared a trillion dollars to the number of seconds in 317,000 years. Forget the fact that 317,000 years contain TEN trillion seconds; I will give him the fact that even 31,700 years is a long time.

Yet what, I ask you, do seconds have to do with dollars? What’s really important to understand in any cost-side debate on health care, is how a trillion dollars of debt affects the American worker and future generations? That is the real question we need to answer.

The truth is that one trillion dollars in debt is easily retired by payments of $39 a month by each member of our existing work force over the standard 30-year mortgage term at 5.2 percent interest. To calculate this yourself, simply divide $1 trillion by 146 million workers and then divide by 182, the value that converts present debt into monthly 30 year mortgage payments.

As stunning as this calculation may be, it is even more surprising that it has not been used by advocates, pundits or the media to explain the meaning of large budgetary figures to the people that pay the taxes. It’s almost as if we are all adhering to some unwritten rules about adversarial discourse by avoiding analyses that use little more than logic and 8th grade math. We worry about “the devil in the details”, forgetting that more often than not the devil does even better in the big picture.

Still, we probably can’t blame the lack of detailed discourse and disclosure just on adversaries with a hidden agenda. The truth is that most people listen to and are engaged by information that is meaningful to them. The challenge of making details meaningful I feel rests with the press. When one side of an argument can get away with obfuscation or intimidation by playing on our aversion to facts and detailed analysis, you can bet that there is a little “constrained” journalism involved in the perpetuation of deception. The press and the populace, it would seem, are equally uncomfortable with the notion that economics, finance and the budgetary process can be dissected and made meaningful with simple math and a little courage.

Challenge the pundit or politician that dwells only in the land of “basic” principles and values while shunning the need to clutter our minds up with analytical details. Reject journalism that fails to dissect vague generalities to confront the truth. Risk making someone in authority angry. The one complaining the loudest is likely to be the devil.
note: if you'd like to check the math in this essay here's a link to a mortgage calculator

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