Sunday, April 12, 2020


UPDATE: Embarrassing math error corrected below. Math is hard!

My Right-Wing Dad has been collecting conservative email forwards and social media posts for more than a decade. The latest post is a collection of coronavirus-related images, which are predictably appalling. A sample:

Here's the first posted image:

It's widely believed on the right that impeachment cost the U.S. taxpayer $40 million. A popular post -- now labeled false on Facebook -- helped spread that message:

PolitiFact debunked this: The cost of the Mueller investigation was closer to $32 million, and convictions resulting from the probe led to asset forfeitures of up to $22 million that offset the cost. The actual impeachment hearings and trial were the work of members of Congress and staffers who would have been paid anyway.

But let's imagine, for the sake of argument, that the $40 million figure was correct. The population of the U.S. is more than 329 million. Forty million dollars is approximately twelve cents per person.

And the dollar amount of the recent coronavirus stimulus package is $2 trillion. That's 50 50,000 times the cost of impeachment, according the right's (exaggerated) impeachment cost estimate. And that's on top of an $8.3 billion bill passed in early March to fight the virus. And there's quite a bit of talk about another stimulus bill.

In other words, the federal government is managing to find money -- lots of it. That $40 million (or $10 million, or whatever) doesn't seem to be missed.

But this is how right-wing arguments about money work. Dollar amounts are never measured against the U.S. population, and they're never measured against one another. Whenever there's an amount of spending that right-wingers don't like -- of any amount over four figures -- it's processed by the conservative brain not as a specific dollar amount or a specific per capita dollar amount, but as a large amount of money. The message, as conservatives understand it, is: Wasteful government spenders are about to fritter away ... a large amount of money! How much? A lot!

Of course, the same conservatives are incapable of grasping the costs of policies they like -- military spending increases under Republican presidents, tax cuts for the rich, and, now that they're afraid of the coronavirus, spending in response to the pandemic. In those categories, no dollar amount is too large.

So math is hard, and twelve cents per person could end the pandemic, even though much greater dollar amounts aren't ending it now.

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