Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Fun With Infinity

To infinity and beyond

Josh Marshall suggests that bloggers who have no idea what to post about today write about this Q&A with the White House's Social Security "expert," Chuck Blahous, who repeats the spin that Social Security needs $10 trillion to meet its projected gaps. OK, you're on. $10t is the figure you get if you calculate the total costs of projected future benefit shortfalls, in “present value,” extended out through infinity. Sure, there’s no reason to calculate present value that way unless you’re trying to scare people. And sure, you can use that logic to say that the “present value” of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans is $15-40 trillion or higher. But I say ease up, Josh! Look on the bright side – we have an Administration so visionary it's thinking about infinity. I started wondering how I could be just as forward thinking in my daily life. Guess what? I can save $22 million dollars by tipping at 15% instead of 20%.

Numbers from the infinity machine (an Excel spreadsheet):

Shortfall between my income and monthly outlays for food, transportation, and shelter: $31.06 billion.

Net present value (NPV) cost of going to the movies - forever: $743 million. (Hey! Sidney Lumet will still be directing in 500 years! There's some good news ...)

Meals out: $440 million. Plus tips: $88 million. Potential savings from tipping at 15% instead of 20%: $22 million.

Magazines: $44 million.

Spare change for the homeless: Current NPV $ 1,575,000. When increase in homelessness due to Republican policies factored in, $11.575 million.

Change that falls out of my pocket and under car seats, thereby becoming permanently irretrievable: $1,394,000.

Psychiatry if Republicans stay in office: $1.1 billion.

Psychiatry if Democrats regain office but don't change their futile strategy of appeasement: $1.1 billion.

Pet food: $28 million. Pet food during Friday catblogging: $4 million.

Internet fees: $55 million. Offset by blog revenues of $347.

Why aren’t they infinite numbers, you may ask, since they are supposed to last for infinity? Because, smart guy, spending deficits end at some point in the future, as long as some money's coming in – when they end is determined in part by the interest assumptions you use. That’s another one of the many ways you can game these numbers to death. Speaking of which, if there’s an economist in the house, please correct my inevitable errors, up to and including the preceding sentence. (But excluding the ones having to do with my personal finances. I’m not giving you the raw data on that!)

What’s that you say? I’m not going to live until infinity? Guess what – neither is the Federal government. For both of us, it’s just going to seem that way.