Subtraction: Math Too Hard for a Conservative Blogger

This has been written about [elsewhere][lf], but I can’t let such a perfect example of the fundamental innumeracy of so many political pundits pass me by without commenting.
Captain Ed of [Captains Quarters][cq] complains about a speech by John Edwards in which Edwards mentions 37 million people below the poverty line:
>Let’s talk about poverty. Where did John Edwards get his numbers? The US Census
>Bureau has a ready table on poverty and near-poverty, and the number 37 million
>has no relation to those below the poverty line. If his basis is worry, well,
>that tells us nothing; what parent doesn’t worry about putting food on the
>table and clothes on the children, except for rich personal-injury attorneys?
>That threshold is meaningless.
Now, let’s look at the very figures that our brilliant captain links to:

```Table 6. People Below 125 Percent of Poverty Level and the Near Poor:
1959 to 2004
(Numbers in Thousands)
____________________________________________________________
Below 1.25      Between 1.00 - 1.25
____________________ ____________________
Year      Total      Number   Percent     Number   Percent
____________________________________________________________
2004.....  290,605     49,666      17.1     12,669       4.4
```

Ok… So, approximately 50 million people below 1.25 * the poverty line… And approximately 13 million people above the poverty line, but below 1.25 times it…
Now, What kind of brilliant mathematician does it take to figure out how many people are below the poverty line from this table? What kind of sophisticated math do we need to use to figure it out? College calculus? No. High school algebra? No. 3rd grade subtraction? There we are.
50 – 13 = ?
My daughter, who is in *kindergarten* can do this using her *fingers*. But apparently math like this is completely beyond our Captain. (As much as I hate to admit it, this isn’t a phenomenon of people on the political right being innumerate; this kind of innumeracy is widespread on both ends of the political spectrum.)
[lf]: http://lawandpolitics.blogspot.com/2006_07_01_lawandpolitics_archive.html#115250909380587878
[cq]: http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/007436.php

0 thoughts on “Subtraction: Math Too Hard for a Conservative Blogger”

1. coturnix

Hey, another Publius fan! Of course, he found some more innumeracy and the comment section is excellent (especially a short comment by ‘bartkid’).

2. archgoon

Craig Pennington wrote:
s/property line/poverty line/
Woah. And I thought I was the only one who used vim notation to correct typos.

ed? I thought it was TECO…
Okay, the linked text suggest they were contemporaneous.
As to the general point: it’s not exactly surprising to find someone glancing at a source and finding what they were looking for, without troubling to verify it. It has become, unfortunately, a staple of our national discourse. Anybody want another serving of WMD?

4. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

Thomas:
She knows that 12 is 10 plus 2; so she starts at fifty, and counts backwards; first with all ten fingers, putting them down one by one, and then again with only two fingers up. (And I didn’t teach her that; she figured it out herself.)