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Political math

By Spencer Price Math ‘“ mere mention makes many people cringe. It seems no other subject is more feared by otherwise ‘know it all’ 8th-graders who consistently protest, ‘Why do I need to learn this stuff? I’m never gonna use it.” Truth be known, mathematics is a valuable, practical subject with myriad applications in daily life. Math lends order and accountability to nearly every aspect of our commercial interactions and without mathematics, many of the greatest achievements of science would never have been realized. In the final analysis, it can be said with certainty that math is our friend. Well, that is, except for political math. Political math is an entirely different animal than arithmetic or algebra or calculus or any other generally recognized area of academic mathematics. In the world of political math, two plus two does not equal four. In fact, all bets are off when it comes to political math. That’s because political math is fundamentally different than academic math. How? Allow me to explain. In academic mathematics, two things are important: the answer to the problem and the method by which the answer is derived. Think back to the time when you were in school. Remember what your math teacher always said? Of course you remember because you heard it so many times ‘“ ‘Show your work.’ Not only were you required to solve math problems but you were also required to show how you solved them. So, again, in academic math, both the ‘answer’ and the ‘method’ of deriving it are important. For political math, not so much. In political math, the answer doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that for emphasis: In political math, the answer doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters to politicians using political math is the method or process ‘“ that is, showing their work. Allow me to illustrate my point with a classic example of political math. The stated goal of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program was to eliminate poverty in America (the answer). The Great Society would end poverty in America by creating a huge welfare program in which the ‘poor’ would receive money to support their children (the method). The idea was that poor parents would use this money to better feed, clothe, and house their children who, as a result of such charity, would grow up to become more productive citizens, thus ending the cycle of poverty. Within a very short time, it was discovered that, rather than use the money to take better care of their children, many of these poor parents were buying television sets and new cars and fancy clothes and, in order to keep the money flowing in, began having more children instead of fewer. So, in essence, Johnson’s welfare program resulted in increasing poverty rather than eliminating it. But do you think politicians put an end to the program? Of course they didn’t. That’s because they were using political math. To them, it didn’t matter that poverty was increasing rather than decreasing (again, the answer). What mattered to them was that the program continued so it would appear as if they were doing something about poverty (again, the method or ‘showing their work’). The Great Society program, as mentioned above, is a classic example of political math in that it demonstrates that politicians don’t care about the results of a program as long as they receive credit for appearing to be doing something about a problem. Math may long continue to be traumatic for school children though, in the end, all will benefit from learning it. Political math may long continue to be traumatic for America and, in the end, regrettably, none of us will benefit from it. America has many problems, none of which has been, or ever will be, solved using political math.

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