Washington Post Wastes $125! News at 11!

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Here’s the lead headline at the Washington Post right now:

Feds spend at least $890,000 on fees for empty accounts

This kind of stuff drives me crazy because it preys on the innumeracy of the general public. Should agencies be more careful about shutting down bank accounts they no longer use? Sure. And does reporter David Fahrenthold acknowledge that the money involved is “a tiny fraction of the federal budget”? Yes he does.

But seriously, folks, “tiny fraction” barely even begins to describe this. In numbers, it represents about 0.000025 percent of the federal budget. But even that’s too small a number to really get a feel for, so let’s put this into terms that the Washington Post can understand.

Annual revenues at the Washington Post hover somewhere around $500 million. So how much is 0.000025 percent of that? Answer: $125. Would the Washington Post run a lengthy story about two empty bank accounts that the Washington Post hasn’t closed yet, which cost the Washington Post’s shareholders $125? No. The story is so self-evidently ridiculous that they’d laugh at anyone foolish enough to even mention it.

Look, I get it. The empty bank accounts are just being used as an example of “old bugs, built into the machine of government, that make spending money seem easier than saving it.” The problem is that dumb stuff like this is what convinces people that government is wantonly wasteful, when the fact is that every corporation in America has inefficiencies this large. It’s just part of human beings running a human organization.

And focusing on this stuff is lazy. If you want to demonstrate that the federal government wastes money, then write a story about actual, substantial waste. Is that too hard? If the government truly is wasteful, it shouldn’t be. In a $3.5 trillion operation there ought to be dozens, even hundreds, of easy examples that cost real money. If there aren’t, then perhaps the real story is that the federal government is actually about as efficient as any other big organization.

The basic problem here is that it’s hard to grapple with the sheer size of the numbers involved. Any corporation in America that kept wasteful spending down to 1 percent would be pretty happy. That number represents a tightly run ship. But the federal government is so large that 1 percent waste amounts to about $35 billion. That’s a scary sounding number, but in fact, it’s pretty small. The truth is that if you can’t dig up at least that amount in wasteful spending—not spending you dislike, but actual wasteful spending—you don’t have much of a story.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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