We used to hear quite a bit about the Bush administration's supposed "war on science."
What about the Obama administration's war on mathematics?
Every time somebody tries to test the logic of the president's economic policy using actual numbers, the White House starts screaming about space aliens.
You think I'm exaggerating? When the automotive consumer researcher Edmunds.com released an economic study last week concluding that the government's cash-for-clunkers giveaway cost taxpayers $24,000 per vehicle sold, the White House accused Edmunds of relying on statistics "covering car sales on Mars." (Who says we don't get bang for our NASA buck?)
The Edmunds study compared historical auto sales trends with sales figures during the recession to conclude that the $3 billion cash-for-clunkers program generated only 125,000 sales that wouldn't have occurred anyway. The Obama administration rebuttal didn't include a single number, just some hopeful rhetoric about (conveniently unmeasureable) "excitement" generated by cash-for-clunkers.
But even that response was a paragon of math wizardry compared to what the White House had to say when ABC reporter Jake Tapper asked about the cost of the jobs the Obama administration claims to have created with its stimulus programs.
This one started when the White House last week issued a report saying that it created or "saved" 640,000 jobs (economists say there's no way to measure the latter, but never mind), then immediately contradicted itself and said the real number was probably more like one million.
Tapper, using the more generous figure, divided the one million jobs into the $160 billion allocated by Sept. 30, then asked what seems like a reasonable question:
"Does that mean the stimulus costs taxpayers $160,000 per job?"
An outraged Jared Bernstein, chief economist and senior economic advisor to Vice President Biden, promptly accused the reporter of "calculator abuse." Janet Reno is no longer attorney general, so that may not be a jailable offense, but it seems certain that Tapper can expect to have all his calculators seized and placed in foster homes.
In case you're wondering where Tapper went wrong, the Obama administration has not repealed the arithmetical rules of division. (Yet.) Bernstein merely said that the reporter should have included all the jobs the White House hopes to have created or saved by the end of next year.
The White House didn't even respond to the other interesting bit of stimulus math that was revealed last week. The National Association of Realtors, lobbying fiercely for a renewal of Obama's $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, said around 1.9 million will receive it this year -- and some 350,000 of those buyers couldn't have purchased a home without it.
Ahem, said the respected economics blog CalculatedRisk.com. Multiplying 1.9 million tax credits by $8,000 equals $15 billion in government subsidies. Divide that by the 350,000 sales generated by the tax credit and it turns out the Obama administration is paying $43,000 per house to stimulate sales.
And for what? The vast majority of these homes have already been built. Their sale won't put anybody to work.
The only addition they'll make to the U.S. workforce will be the additional auditors the IRS will have to employ to check the paperwork when the buyers ask for the tax credit on their returns this spring.
That's why the Obama White House has declared war on math: Because it's a nettlesome reminder of how balky, inefficient and generally useless its various stimulus programs have been. For the $24,000-per-vehicle cost of the cash for clunkers program, the government could have presented every single one of those new buyers with a brand new Smart Car plus two years' worth of gasoline to run it. For that matter, why not just draw the names of 125,000 random Americans out of a hat and give each one a check for $24,000?
The answer is that the American economy is not the real target of the stimulus; the American government is.
How many new inspectors and bookkeepers and red-tape-sniffers of all types did the U.S. Department of Transportation add to implement the cash for clunkers program?
How many otherwise unemployable policy wonks have been surgically attached to the open veins of taxpayers to help the government administer its new stakes in the banking and automotive industries?
How many economic planners do we have in Washington these days applying their social-engineering skills to make sure we spend our money in ways that benefit the government's favored beneficiaries? "Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas," Albert Einstein once said.
Obamamath, on the other hand, is the poetry of pork.