Government Spending

Yes, Science, But How About a March for Math?

Innumerates number the ranks of politicians and bureaucrats.

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Tens of thousands of people marched in hundreds of cities last weekend as part of something billed as the March for Science. The event, which coincided with Earth Day, was meant to rebuke the Trump administration's global-warming skepticism and its plan to cut taxpayer funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies that arguably deal with "science."

"The job of science is to both understand the Earth, understand the things that we can get out of the Earth, how we're going to interact with it, how we're going to make the Earth a better place," said a representative of the Carnegie Institution of Science in a news report. "So seeing it fall under such hard times or negative impressions of it is just amazing to me."

It's a stretch to suggest that the prominence of scientific knowledge in general is falling under "hard times" because of recent proposals to trim the budget of some massive government bureaucracies. Judging by the anti-Trump signs and demands for more funding for various programs that proliferated at the marches, it seems they were more about political science than the kind of hard science that March for Science organizers had touted.

Nevertheless, the marchers are onto something, although their concept should be applied instead to a different discipline. "I think we need to have a March for Math. How you gonna be over $19 trillion in debt and still spending?" wrote commentator Julie Borowski. Indeed. Our political leaders, in California especially, are enthralled by climate science and have embraced myriad programs to deal with the issue of man-made global warming.

No, most legislators aren't at war with science. They remain at war, however, with basic numbers. Congress continues to spend money even though the federal budget is trillions of dollars in debt. How does that work? We keep hearing—from members of both parties, by the way—that the key is cutting government waste. But there's no appetite for cutting entitlements, or defense spending, and there's no way to cut service on debt. After those items, the federal government already is running a deficit. That's an obvious addition problem.

In California, legislators in 1999 passed a law that led to a tidal wave of retroactive 50 percent pension increases for government employees across the state. Its advocates claimed that such a huge giveaway wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime. And that one law, passed with bipartisan support and over the objections of fiscal watchdogs, has laid the groundwork for California's continuing pension problems, which have unfunded liabilities estimated as high as $1 trillion.

That math deficiency ought to lead to angry protests in cities across the state, let alone marches.

Former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pension adviser, David Crane, said in testimony before the state Senate in 2010 that the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) "has not been requiring adequate contributions when pension promises are made, virtually assuring deficiencies for which only the state is on the hook… Initial contributions are determined by investment return assumptions. For example, in 1999 CalPERS based pension contributions on an 8.25 percent annual investment return, which implicitly forecast that the Dow Jones industrial average would reach roughly 25,000 by 2009 and 28,000,000 by 2099."

We see the Legislature and then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) not only were incapable of doing simple math problems, but they embraced fiscal models that had more to do with "magical thinking" than "mathematical reasoning," especially when it comes to multiplication tables. Don't they know that inadequate contributions and overly optimistic rate-of-return predictions multiply the size of the shortfall and have a cascading effect?

Similar math problems continue. In its last fiscal year, CalPERS' investments earned a return of less than 1 percent. The agency responded by voting to reduce its expected return rate to a still-too-high 7 percent, which suggests legislators need to brush up on the concept of compound interest.

State leaders didn't know—or were so eager to increase benefits for their union allies that they chose not to know—that retroactive increases would lead to an exploding membership in the $100,000 pension club, and resulting cost increases for local governments. Those governments would raise taxes and pare back budgets. That's a subtraction problem that legislators and CalPERS overlooked, although subtracting personal income and reducing public services to make up for exponential growth in public-sector pensions have never been much of a concern to them.

California officials have trouble with percentages, too. For instance, CalPERS will soon have more people receiving benefits from the system than paying into it. The pension fund's defenders will say that's not a problem, given that the fund is supposed to be self-sustaining, which means that the amount of money paid into it plus interest earned from investments pays for all the retirement costs. Yes, it's supposed to be, but it isn't self-sustaining. The system's "unfunded liability" refers to the amount that isn't paying for itself, and is backed by the state's taxpayers.

It's hard to see thousands of people rallying to the cry, "no unsustainable pension systems," but it might do more good than yelling about "science."

The Democratic Jerry Brown administration and the Democratic legislature have not put the pension issue—or the retiree medical issue, which may be an even bigger problem—on the agenda since the 2012 passage of the Public Employees' Pension Reform Act. PEPRA, they say, has reformed the system. The act reduces benefits almost entirely for newly hired public employees. Here's where math education comes in handy. Those employees won't start retiring for 25 or 30 years, so slightly reducing their benefits will do little to deal with the current pension debt.

Some California cities (Stockton, Vallejo and San Bernardino) have gone bankrupt, but none of them have trimmed pension benefits for current employees, even though a federal judge in the Stockton bankruptcy case said that cities may "abrogate" pension promises in bankruptcy. Before the decision, CalPERS had argued that this wasn't allowable. Essentially, cities would be forced to pay benefits they had promised even if they didn't have the money to do so. Talk about the New Math.

Lo and behold, Vallejo and Stockton have continued to have fiscal problems even after exiting bankruptcy. Regarding San Bernardino's exit plan, Moody's reported last week that the city "will face operational challenges associated with deferred maintenance and potential service shortfalls, which, added to the pension difficulties, increase the probability of continued financial distress and possibly even a return to bankruptcy." Officials in all those cities insisted their bankruptcy workout plans would fix their cities' problems.

These are definite math problems. The impact of ignoring math won't mean that planet Earth dissolves in a giant fireball, as some global-warming activists claim, but it will mean that cities will continue to face "service insolvency"—when there's enough money to pay the bills, but not to provide an adequate level of public services. Other cities will no doubt face actual insolvency. Some people may lose their pensions. Taxpayers will continue to face higher taxes. Businesses will continue to flee the state. Unlike global warming, this is something local officials can really change if pressed to do so.

There are lots of statistics to add and subtract here, even if there's little understanding of them by those who make the decisions and spend our money. After the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) issued new rules that prodded governments into more accurately reporting their liabilities, the size of California's stated debt has soared. That's a good step in the direction of honest math, but it's only the first step forward.

Maybe it is time for concerned citizens to march to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento—and to their local city hall, as well. They can carry signs, although it's hard to come up with pithy comments that rhyme with "unfunded liabilities," "service insolvency," "3 percent at 50" and "assumed rates of return." Still, it might be worth trying. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democratic advocate for pension reform, has said the pension problem is "about math, not politics." She's right—and it's also a perfect slogan for a march.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This column was first published by the California Policy Center.

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  1. Indeed. Basic arithmetic skills are sorely lacking. But politicians do have the arithmetic skills where it counts — votes and polls. The rest is just a basket of numbers to cherry pick.

    1. Scientific activists generally leave mathematicians alone, because equations resist semantic agresssion better than words.

      What’s really scary is Trump not having a mathematics advisor .

      1. Nothing says science like calling anyone who dares challenge a hypothesis the devil.

        Apparently, the marxist considers science to be immediate adherence to a theory without question. After all, science does not evolve with further acquisition of knowledge over time.

        Just has Degrasse Tyson, the Nye, and the tonys of the world.

        These sheep would have you think that nothing has been proven wrong over the past 20 years.

        1. Someone needs to watch Bill Nye Saves The World to document the pure derp and bad science. I would, but I am pretty sure I would stroke out about 10 min in.
          Seriously, the guy has a BS in engineering, and worked for Boeing for a few years. And he hosted a stupid kids science show. That is the extent of his “scientific” experience.
          Just for perspective, (and because he pisses me off so much) I have a BS in engineering, an MS in mechanical engineering (and a year of grad work was in Physics), have worked as an engineer for 14 years, and taught AP Physics for 8 years. So fuck this asshole. I would give him a thousand bucks if he could solve a 2nd order PDE, or if he knows the difference between enthalpy, Helmholtz free energy and Gibbs free energy.

          1. Gibbs free energy

            That’s the energy expended by Gibbs when he slaps Tony on the back of the head on NCIS, right? /sarc

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          2. “So fuck this asshole. I would give him a thousand bucks if he could solve a 2nd order PDE, or if he knows the difference between enthalpy, Helmholtz free energy and Gibbs free energy.”

            If you’re gonna use that kind of language, make sure you include a trigger warning… I still have nightmares about thermo and I think you may have set off my PTSD.

          3. I don’t think you really need to be a credentialed scientist to be a decent presenter of popular science for children. And Bill Nye really wasn’t terrible when that is all he did. But anyone with half a brain and an ability for public speaking could do the same.
            Expecting people to see him as some kind of authority on all of science because he had a TV show where he was called “science guy” is pretty idiotic, though. And the “Saves the world” thing is pretty barftastic. I don’t think I could bear to watch that shit either.

    2. I don’t think there’s a lack of math skills. There’s plenty of math skills and that’s evident in the ability of all concerned parties to creatively find ways to twist the math to support their side. Doing that shit isn’t easy.

      Just like both parties have a love of science and use it extensively to support their arguments and dispute the other side’s science.

      Similarly, someone like Obama uses his constitutional law background to figure out how to argue that the Constitution supports his position.

      The politicized part of all of these comes not from the facts of science/math/law, but rather from the way that those are interpreted and applied.

      1. The political class found a magic loophole: shaft the young and future generations because they cannot vote or contribute to campaigns.

        The simple fact is that no one under the age of 18 – or yet to be born – is allowed to vote for the very politicians who are mortgaging their future. Borrow from future generations and give to the current one. Provided there are infinite future generations, this can go on forever, of course. The boomers honed and institutionalized this procedure.

        Such intergenerational transfers of wealth from future generations to current ones violates the 14th Amendment Section 1, not to mention violating thousands of years of western ethics that children are not bound by their parents’ debts (e.g., Jubilee, seisachtheia).

    3. I saw a TED talk once about math education which should teach statistics and probability after algebra instead of calculus. With the logic gained I think the average person could understand how statistics are manipulated by politicians and news sources to skew public opinion. People also seem have no concept humanities poor ability to correlate probability of things such as terrorist attack rather than cancer. They would rather spend their time fretting over dying an almost impossible manner (terrsts) vs something that is the 2nd leading cause of death and how they can better change their lives to minimize that probability. In other words people are ignorant of applying logic to their existence and listen to talking heads in various forms for the way they should lead their lives. People lead their lives avoiding things that hurt them rather than expanding their education on how they can lead a more fulfilling life and bend it as much as possible to their will. They’d all rather point fingers and be victims. but please do not let this extensive clarification distract you from the fact that in 1998, The Undertaker threw Mankind off Hell In A Cell, and plummeted 16 ft through an announcer’s table.

  2. Wow, this just shows how much California needs to raise taxes on the 1 percentets.

  3. Meh. The problem goes way beyond any budgetary issue. I suspect very few of the “pro-science” marchers have any inkling of how science and math are linked.

    If your numbers don’t really work it means you need reexamine your assumptions and go back to the lab, not start screaming at your critics for being heretics and heathens.

  4. Meh. The problem goes way beyond any budgetary issue. I suspect very few of the “pro-science” marchers have any inkling of how science and math are linked.

    If your numbers don’t really work it means you need reexamine your assumptions and go back to the lab, not start screaming at your critics for being heretics and heathens.

    1. “…I suspect very few of the “pro-science” marchers have any inkling of how science and math are linked….”
      And they were “pro-science” only so long as “science” might be spun to promote the lefty goals.

  5. Marching is a political action used to gain support and consensus – many times by protesting other actions.

    But politics and consensus are more often an enemy of science and not a promoter as there is nothing scientific about political action or consensus

  6. “…was meant to rebuke the Trump administration’s global-warming skepticism and its plan to cut taxpayer funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies that arguably deal with “science.””

    It was mean to claim science as a partisan issue; to politicize what should be 100% non-political.

  7. Economics is the war to come, like the aliens waiting behind the moon for Jeff Goldblum to die so they can attack us.

    1. Independence Day happened on another planet called Erf. If you listen closely, Will Smith has some dialogue where he welcomes an alien to the planet.

      1. Apocryphal! Even though my memory always said otherwise, he actually does say Earth.

        But regardless, that movie is no Armageddon.

    2. Joke’s on them, though, because Goldblum is immortal.

  8. But you can’t really politicize math, so what’s the point of a march?

    1. Huh? I thought ‘science’ was the voice of the oppressed and ‘math’ was the voice of the patriarchy?

      And by ‘science’ I mean ‘anything that can be popularly understood’ and by math I mean ‘anything that’s hard’ or ‘anything that can’t be controverted by science’.

      I suppose being unable to politicize math doesn’t prevent you from politicizing everything else around it such that no one can tell.

      1. Oh, right. I forgot that rigor and logical consistency were tools of the Eurocentric patriarchy. Please ignore all of those Indian, Chinese and Islamic mathematicians.

    2. 7 is like totally sexist. And 3 is racist as hell.

      1. I thought it was more like the Ph scale. Turns out it is more like the hot/crazy matrix.

      2. One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
        Two can be as bad as one
        It’s the loneliest number since the number one

  9. Excellent article, though our legislators who behave as thought they might not understand basic arithmetic very well do: they just disregard the potential financial consequences of their actions because “it’s not their money” and they are generally unacountable in light of an uneducated and easily distracted electorate.

    Moreso than of “science,” whatever that word means now, the lack of appreciation and understanding of mathematical principles, in all their objectively-determinative glory, is fundamental problems affecting our society. There is no room for teh feelz in second order linear partial differential equations.

    1. There is no room for teh feelz in second order linear partial differential equations.

      That’s hate speech, straight up. /sarc

  10. Cory Doctorow wrote an excellent short story about a near-future attempt to rewire human brains for numeracy via a virus.

    1. Doctorow is precisely the kind of tard who would join in on the march for science.

  11. Try bringing up crime and abortion statistics with the “Science March” people. Their love of facts and numbers fly right out the window.

    1. Facts, schmacts, you can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.

    2. Huh? I thought there was a striking correlation between the onset of legal abortions and a major drop in crime statistics.

      1. Yeah, but if you believe it, you are either racist or a baby killer, depending on who you ask.

      2. Correlation, more abortions leads to less crime

        Causation, you’re a typical male patriarch that is to blame for it to start with.

        1. How do you know that all those women whose boys grew up to be criminals weren’t raped?

  12. I think the Dow has a very good chance of hitting 28,000,000 before 2099, just not in the way calpers wants.

  13. In some states you can’t do math without a license.

    1. The Media and the illiberal Marxians would mischaracterize a march for liberty as a “Fascist And Neo-Nazi March” in an effort to smear liberty as ‘oppressive’.

      Up is down, you know.

    2. Liberty is pass?.

      Now gimmee my free shit.

  14. Math does not help impose a perfect Socialist society like Angry Volcano God worship (aka Climatey Changey) does.

    Bill Nye, no maths expert, is now calling for mass sterilization under the guise of saving the Earth… Which starts with appealling to the moral duty not to have “too many” children, of course – all seemingly innocent and innocuous, but you know how these things end. Omelets come to mind.

    1. Turns out college professors are really not that smart. Kind of like the college professors at the FED who think that limitless can kicking and debt creation can some how pay for itself by creating market demand in certain sectors.

      These same people will well you, however, that markets have not figured out how to correct themselves by creative destruction, price discovery, allocation of capital, and mutual exchange of value for benefit.

      In other words, politicians and economists alike have no real concept of free markets and their successes over central planning.

    2. Was about to post about this. Bill Nye going full Malthus should be horrifying. I haven’t watched that episode but I can’t imagine there’s any serious discussion about the tragedy of China’s attempts at population control

    3. “Bill Nye, no maths expert, is now calling for mass sterilization under the guise of saving the Earth… Which starts with appealling to the moral duty not to have “too many” children, of course”

      He just needs to read “The End of Doom” by Reason’s own Ron Bailey. The birthrate, even in developing countries, has been declining ALL ON ITS OWN. Evidence shows that when women gain even a little bit of economic opportunity, they immediately stop pushing out baby after baby. The birthrate almost immediately drops to at or even below replacement levels. Trends show that global population should actually start declining by mid-century.

      But I know that’s too reasonable for the likes of Nye or that Erhlich idiot who still thinks the Soylent Green movie from 1970 is about to come true at any moment.

      Plus, giving poor third world women economic opportunities sounds uncomfortably like capitalism for these “enlightened” folks — and we certainly can’t have any more of that!

      1. Evidence shows that when women gain even a little bit of economic opportunity, they immediately stop pushing out baby after baby.

        Pushing out babies was the only economic opportunity when subsistence farming and war were the primary economic sectors.

  15. OT.
    Suggestion for the Reason web site:
    Make it jump around for some time after you change pages so when you think you’d clicked on an article, you find you’ve clicked on an ad.

  16. was meant to rebuke the Trump administration’s global-warming skepticism and its plan to cut taxpayer funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies that arguably deal with “science.”

    Right, and push more forms of alternative energy.

    1. And more government meddling in every aspect of life.

      They are marxists morons and nothing more. If you have not figured out the ACC is not political scam by now, you are probably a Marxists at heart and don’t know it yet.

  17. Similar math problems continue. In its last fiscal year, CalPERS’ investments earned a return of less than 1 percent

    Yes, but it was a socially conscious 1%, so it’s better.

  18. BTW, My favorite part is the pimp @ 1:32.

  19. “The job of science is to both understand the Earth, understand the things that we can get out of the Earth, how we’re going to interact with it, how we’re going to make the Earth a better place,” said a representative of the Carnegie Institution of Science in a news report.

    So I guess any science that doesn’t fall under the category of Earth Science (which I’m including Environmental Science – the most importantist kind science evar!) can go screw. Physicists, Chemists, Nero-biologists, Astronomers, etc.: non of you are actually doing science. Turn in your lab-coats.

  20. RE: Trump’s Radical Tax Reform Is the Best Antidote for Trumpism

    “Tens of thousands of people marched in hundreds of cities last weekend as part of something billed as the March for Science. The event, which coincided with Earth Day, was meant to rebuke the Trump administration’s global-warming skepticism and its plan to cut taxpayer funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies that arguably deal with “science.”

    No.
    The “tens of thousands” who marched in cities last weekend was to demonstrate why they like oppressive bureaucracies like the EPA and wasting tax payer’s money on junk science.

  21. So to summarize all the protests.

    You need to believe, otherwise you’ll end up somewhere uncomfortably warm.

  22. I would gladly march for math-from what I’ve seen with my son who is in first grade, the way they are teaching it in public schools now has gone beyond goofy, to the point where he can’t tell me how many sides different shapes have. I suspect that this explains a lot about today’s youth.

  23. Science and math are wonderful, but what about “economics”? These so called advocates for “science” don’t think twice about urging a $15.00/per hour minimum wage, do they? They’re idiots.

  24. just before I saw the paycheck which was of $9068 , I did not believe …that…my father in law was like they say actually taking home money in there spare time on their computer. . there brothers friend haze done this for less than seven months and at present paid the loans on there apartment
    _________________________ https://www.paybuzz7.com

  25. til I saw the receipt that said $6460 , I did not believe …that…my mother in law wiz like they say actually earning money in their spare time from their computer. . there aunt started doing this for under thirteen months and recently clears the adepts on there mini mansion and blurt a great Aston Martin DBL . go to this website….
    ___________________________ https://www.paybuzz7.com

  26. Tens of thousands of people marched in hundreds of cities last weekend as part of something billed as the March for Science.

    Of course, it was actually a “March for Crony Capitalism”: Steyer, Musk, and Soros need a few more billions from the government.

  27. Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.

    So much for math!

  28. The pension problem will get fixed very soon; I saw where the pension actuaries are going to hire a bunch of climate change modelers to make the numbers work out they way they should.

  29. Lawrence Summers lost his job as President of Harvard because he believed in math.

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