Math Is Hard

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Update: cited by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal.

Math is hard. It’s a hashtag on Twitter (#mathishard). And, apparently, it’s too hard for the president of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country. See if you can spot the innumeracy in the following report. Hint: comparing one year’s spending with ten years of taxes (undiscounted) is not a very good idea. If you need more information, see the end.

From the PBS News Hour November 13, 2012 (

[JEFFREY BROWN] “As we just heard from Judy, President Obama met with leaders of labor and liberal groups today at the White House.

We’re joined now by two who were there.

Dennis Van Roekel is the president of the National Education Association. With some three million members, including teachers, it’s the largest labor union in the country. And Justin Ruben, executive director of, a political advocacy group.

Want to start with you, Dennis Van Roekel. What was the key message that you brought to the White House and wanted the president to hear today?

DENNIS VAN ROEKEL, National Education Association: Well, I brought the message that, number one, it’s important that we let the Bush tax cuts disappear for the wealthiest 2 percent.

As we’re looking for a $1.2 trillion solution, $829 billion takes us a long way there. I also brought a message that there are other areas of taxes that we looked at that need to be — look at the fairness issue. President Obama not only won this election, but so did his ideas and his values. The American people want fairness. They want everyone to pay their fair share.”

Give up? The $829 billion in tax revenue is the total of ten years of revenue without discounting. But the $1.2 trillion is one year’s government budget deficit.

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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.

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