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Do the Math

People who can do math are such a pain.

And they can ruin a good story.

I was thinking about that the other day when some folks in the café were talking about a local character who was fond of boasting about his skills as a hunter.

“Why,” he’d say, “I’ve shot over a million ducks and geese in my life.”

He said it a lot. If you spent much time in bars or pool halls when you were growing up, you probably knew someone much like him.  Perhaps you can hear his voice in your head right now.

Someone who’d heard him repeat it a few times finally started to do the math.

“How long have you been hunting?” he asked him.

“Since I was 10,” was the reply.  “Over 40 years!”

“OK, well, 40 times 365 is 14,600 days.  Divide a million by that and you get sixty-eight and a half.  But hunting season is only two or, at the most, three months long.  So that means every day of every hunting season since you were 10, you’ve shot almost 278 ducks and geese.  Wow. Why are you not in jail?”

This is the point that you’d think the guy would have just slunk away in shame.  Instead, he blustered a little, changed the subject and within a week was right back to telling the same story again and had almost as many people nodding in agreement and admiration when he said it.

This story popped into my head because I was thinking about the 1984 presidential election.   (Wow…30 years ago…man, am I old!)

Those of you old enough to remember know that Ronald Reagan ran against Walter Mondale.  A classic conservative against a classic liberal. During his convention speech Mondale said, “Whoever is inaugurated in January will have to raise taxes. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”

For those of you who don’t remember the ’80s, President Reagan first took office during a bad recession.  He cut taxes and increased spending in order to boost the economy.  It worked, but it also increased the deficit from 2.6% of the GDP to 6%.  You can’t do that forever.  It’s a little like being a farmer in a wet year.  He might spend money like crazy on tracks for his equipment and propane to dry wet crops, but the next year he’ll need to economize in order to balance his books.  So, shortly after President Reagan was reelected he did raise taxes, 11 times by some people’s account. It was just math – it had to be done. Fritz Mondale got walloped in the election and him telling the truth in his convention speech is considered one of the greatest mistakes an American political figure ever made . . . something that says more about American politics than it says about Mondale.

I started thinking about that old story - those two old stories if you include the one about the fraudulent duck hunter - because we’re moving into the political season now, and you can already hear all sorts of people saying all sorts of goofy stuff.  I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I’d suggest that before you decide, you run their numbers through a calculator.

Doing the math may make you look a little boring, but that’s considerably better than looking like a chump.

Copyright 2013 Brent Olson

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